With the recent addition of Naked for Satan’s rooftop extension, Naked in the Sky, we began thinking about the old Moran & Cato building that houses it and how the space has been utilised throughout the years.
The 1897 building has undergone several transformations over the years. Walking through each floor tells a different story and it begins at the ground level with cousins and businessmen, Thomas Moran and Frederick Cato, the original grocers of Melbourne.
Customers visited the Fitzroy providore to have basics like flour, meat, butter and sugar weighed and bagged. Old machinery used by the workers was found and preserved, but certain items gained more interest than others, such as the large, copper vodka distilling drums discovered in the basement.
During the Great Depression, when alcohol was scarce, caretaker and bootlegger Leon Satanovich would brew and sell vodka in nothing but his underpants to eager customers. The story of Satanovich’s grungy operation beneath the civilized activities of the grocers eventually inspired Naked for Satan’s branding concept. Operating today as a tapas bar, where vodka is one of the main features, the legend of mischievous Satanovich has been kept alive.
Over the years, the next three levels were converted into offices, although each establishment has made the space their own. The essence of the building’s architecture and history has been carried throughout each, with original exposed brick, high ceiling pillars and grand view windows left as they are.
Artesian Capital Management is situated within a smaller, modern space that used to be a storage area for a charity warehouse. One treasure left behind was a mysterious graffiti painting of the Virgin Mary. “The painting was covering one of the windows. We liked it so much that we asked the landlord if he could put it back once the renovation was done,” says Sarina Lissenburg, the group accountant.
In the next office is Carter Digital. The web design company has transformed the original space into a totally carbon neutral work environment, decorated with artwork by Ghostpatrol. “We wanted a space that was raw – an industrial shell that we could make our own,” says James Noble, the company’s principal. Soon moving up a floor to a larger office space, the team looks forward to calling 281 Brunswick Street home for some time to come.
The third floor, which is rumoured to have once been a brothel, is currently unoccupied, an opportunity waiting for someone with a love of the area and its history to become part of the narrative.
If there is one element of the building that all its residents are celebrating, it’s the opening of Naked in the Sky on level four. “We’re in negotiations to have a private elevator installed for client meetings in our newly dubbed ‘boardroom’,” jokes Damian Hinks of Carter Digital.
Although the building has seen a lot of change, it’s the rooftop that has received the biggest make over. Originally a basic tin roof with a lonely wooden hut, it is incredible to now see relaxed crowds sipping cider while overlooking stunning views of the city and the ever-changing Brunswick Street. The old brickwork and heavy timber beams serve as evidence of a building with a lengthy past and juxtaposes the bright, colourful furniture on the open terrace and modern bar inside. It’s definitely the ideal place for after work drinks.
The Moran & Cato building shows that delving a little bit deeper can mean unearthing Melbourne’s extensive and quirky past – and all it takes is a journey up to the rooftop.