When Allie Webb turned 30 she and her husband Anton Forte shouted 60 friends and family to a lavish lunch at their new 150-seat restaurant, Hubert, before it opened to the public. On a sunny Sunday the couple’s best mates descended the dimly lit staircase of the former Celestial Chinese restaurant on Bligh Street for the first look at the most anticipated restaurant opening of 2016. From oysters and steak tartare, to lobster, roast chicken and duck-fat potatoes, every element of the decadent subterranean French feast served by chef Dan Pepperell was accompanied by free-flowing cocktails and wine. The celebration ended almost a day later.
“We started at 12pm and we ended up getting home at 4am,” Webb says laughing. “We just thought it would be a good thing to let all our friends and family see the restaurant before the rest of the world did, plus we got to test all the dishes ourselves.”
Showering their nearest and dearest with food before welcoming the critics was a typically generous gesture from Webb and Forte, a couple renowned for their bonhomie.
Forte and Jason Scott are the owners of Swillhouse, a collective of bars and restaurants including Shady Pines Saloon, The Baxter Inn, Frankie's Pizza By The Slice and Hubert. Webb is an accomplished artist and also works with Forte and Scott to create graphics and interiors for their venues.
Forte and Webb share their Marrickville home with Webb’s scarlet eclectus parrot, named Quanah. What begins as an early afternoon interview and photo shoot ends shortly before midnight following red wine, cheese and pickled oysters; listening to the couple’s vinyl collection; and perusing their collection of taxidermy.
“We bought the taxidermy from the British Museum,” says Forte. “There was a huge taxidermy auction at Lawsons and we’d done up Shady Pines with a lot of taxidermy so we really knew our shit when it came to prices.”
The couple moved into their Marrrickville home three years ago after meeting at The Supper Club in Melbourne in 2008 when Forte was working behind the bar and Webb was on a night out for a friend’s birthday.
“I then got work there as a door bitch to try and hit on him I guess,” says Webb. Her strategy worked. “I took her out on a date and picked her up in my Commodore,” says Forte. “All her friends were out in the front garden smoking hipster cigarettes and I did a massive burn out to prove I was a hectic wog.” The appeal was instantaneous.
“I like that Anton is confident and doesn’t give a shit what people think about him,” she says. “He is very masculine, he’s fun, he doesn’t give a shit and he’s wild.” For his part Forte was drawn to Webb’s mysterious ways. “When I met her she was very mysterious and had this aura about her – a certain confidence and charm.”
Webb completed a degree in Communication Design at RMIT in Melbourne, then worked as a graphic designer for a book publishing company in Sydney before Forte convinced her to join the Swillhouse team.
Scott and Forte met working at the (now closed) Victoria Room in Darlinghurst. The first Swillhouse bar they opened together was Shady Pines. “At that time in Sydney there wasn’t anywhere good to go to drink; in my opinion it was limited to Barons, the Stonewall, Judgement Bar and the Gaslight. It felt years behind the drinking culture in the rest of the world so we decided to do our own thing.”
At the same time Webb was expanding her career as an artist doing pen and ink drawings and linocut prints she sells on Instagram. Creating the graphics and sourcing interiors for Swillhouse was a natural progression.
“Jason and Anton get drunk together and come up with all these crazy ideas and then Anton and I will get drunk together and then we do all the creative art together,” she says.
As the duo continues to advance their careers, Forte says it’s their personal growth that counts. “I know it sounds lame but there is always something new coming from Allie,” he says. “It’s not just her artwork, it could be a stupid joke, a prank, an idea or something else. As you grow with someone you both start to think about things differently. And she’s a total fucking babe.”