The name of the Grossi family’s new CBD bar, Arlechin, is a play on the Italian word arlecchino (meaning “harlequin”), which, in the words of Loredana Grossi, can be described as a “character who is dark, moody, studious [and] a bit playful.” Interpret this how you will.
Loredana’s brother, Carlo, who manages the Grossi Florentino dining room around the corner, and who looks more than a little like his father, Guy Grossi, says their plan was to open the bar “very softly and slowly” so as to “let people stumble across it and discover it” for themselves. He’s not just being cute, either – apart from a small logo tucked into a corner of the perforated glass entranceway, there’s little indication you’re in the right spot.
You enter Arlechin through the once-gritty Mornane Place, which the Grossi’s have spruced up with party lights and a large carnal street art installation by Melbourne artist Mike Maka (aka Makatron). They’ve built a compost-glass crushing garage to take care of the parade of grim dumpsters that once lined the alleyway.
Inside it’s a more conventional form of modern elegance, with a nifty layout by Six Degrees Architecture. The economic yet well-portioned 40-seat space has a slightly subterranean ambience, with a low, concave Portages cork roof that’s lit like an old European wine cellar with overhead spotlights that cast ominous, abstract shadows off industrial-chic weight-and-pulley downlight shades.
The bar is a long white-marble countertop with a decadent silver fruit bowl in the centre. It looks a little like the Holy Grail scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, with rows of dimly coloured, liquor-hued bottles illuminated behind the bar like chalices. The wine bottles, too, seem a little sacred, stored inside glass-encased walls.
According to Loredana, the space was originally the ground floor of the State Trustees building until the owner renovated and sub-divided it two years ago. Initially, the Grossi’s used it for storage and eventually to house their very large wine cellar (Carlo puts it at 1400 bottles). But over time the concept grew – early plans were to turn it into a pastry shop or an events space.
“We eventually settled on opening a small, beautiful bar,” says Carlo. “And from there it really started to develop.”
They brought on Joe Jones (from Romeo Lane) to consult on the layout and bar menu, which includes Melbourne cocktail classics such as the Champagne Julep (champagne, mint and sugar) and the Jungle Bird (dark rum, Campari, pineapple, lime and sugar) along with new recipes, including the Imperial Special (with the Italian digestive bitters amaro lucano), and the Half Way (with smoky mescal and cynar). Manager Adam Roderick (ex-Der Raum, Lui Bar, Tonka) will man the bar.
Carlo describes the wine offerings as “democratic” with a focus on Italian, French and Australian drops, curated by head sommelier George McCullough and group sommelier Michael Smith.
Guy Grossi and head chef Fabrizio Amenta oversee food. There’s a concise list of bar snacks “that you can manage with your hands” Carlo says. Items include bolognaise jaffles, smoked-eel parfait, oysters and the aglio olio-style Midnight Spaghetti (“something you cook when you’re trying to impress a girl but you’ve got nothing in your pantry”). Desserts are prepared by Florentino pastry chef Peter Nguyen, with booze-friendly wonders such as jelly slices and alchermes-soaked custard doughnuts.
At the end of the day, as Carlo puts it, Arlechin isn’t the kind of place where you “walk in and hi-five 35 different people.” “You can actually just go, ‘argh’ and let the day melt away and really relax. Really enjoy that cheeky little time of night.”
Mornane Place, Melbourne