When husband and wife team Emilio Scalzo and Zoë Rubino stumbled across two adjoining run-down buildings on Gertrude Street in Fitzroy, they couldn’t have been more pleased.

“It was a complete and utter blank canvas,” says Scalzo. “We liked the idea of it because we weren’t working with any restraints really. Budget aside, the world was our oyster.”

That oyster is now Poodle Bar & Bistro, a grand 200-capacity venue with a 40-seat restaurant, a courtyard and a cocktail bar, where each space has its own distinct look and feel.

“Part of the original agenda was if you came here four or five nights in a row, depending on where you sat or what menu was in front of you, you’d have a different experience from the night before,” says Scalzo. “And it really has panned out that way.” That’s largely thanks to its design.

The initial vision

The couple had a strong vision for Poodle’s look and ambience from the outset – one where distinct colours and textures would give each room its own personality. “We had this kind of old-world hotel vision,” says Scalzo. “We wanted it to feel timeless.” So finding the right designer to collaborate with was crucial.

The answer was Wendy Bergman of Collingwood design studio Bergman & Co. “We fell in love straight away,” says Rubino. The pair worked closely with Bergman on every step, from selecting fabrics to paint swatches and textures.

Division unites

The biggest aesthetic decision to make was the difference between the floors. “We wanted the front bar to have a public-bar feel to it,” says Rubino of the grand but relaxed street-level space. But once patrons pass over the chequerboard floor to the courtyard, the mood shifts with high tables, terracotta and grapevines. Upstairs is more of an art deco lounge, with low, slim lines and dim lighting. (There’s also a private dining room with old-world cabinetry and dark-green accents.)

Fun on the walls and tables

While Poodle feels grand, the couple also wanted to make sure there was a touch of fun. The artwork helps: a mixture of works looted from their own collection, finds from country op shops, and commissions from local artists. Poodles, of course, feature prominently.

“At one point there were lots of different poodles on the way from various corners of the globe,” says Rubino. “I feel like we probably now own a good percentage of the world’s antique poodle collection,” adds Scalzo.

This attention to detail and mood-building extends into every aspect of the venue – even the crockery. “We wanted it to feel a little bit ’70s and quite European,” says Rubino. “We both have an Italian background and wanted to [have some] fun with [the idea] of going to your nonna’s house.”

Despite a delayed start – Poodle had just been completed when restrictions hit in March – Scalzo and Rubino are excited to finally show off their work.

“We couldn’t be happier,” says Rubino of their design dreams became a reality. “I actually wish I could see this place with fresh eyes, because we’ve seen it from a shell and taking the walls out [to now]. It’s nice to step back sometimes and have a look at it.”

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