For Summer Hill local Tess Robens, Rio Milk Bar always loomed large in her imagination. The stars aligned for the former co-owner of Newtown’s Corridor, who – with her husband Mick – turned the neighbourhood icon into an actual bar.
The sun-faded Streets ice-cream placards and hard candy might be gone, but the Robens have made sure Rio is connected to its history. The shop’s original signage still adorns its awning and vintage-styled bar stools hark back to the milk bar’s golden age. There is even a milkshake machine behind the bar – next to wineglasses and a hefty collection of bitters.
The milkshake machine churns out virgin milkshakes for kids and one spiked with harder stuff for adults. The Rio Milkshake combines rum, Amaretto, agave and milk.
It sits on a cocktail menu with other locally inspired drinks, like the Summer Hill Express (Armagnac, Applewood espressocello, espresso, and house-made vanilla and fig syrup) or the Aussie Negroni (Melbourne gin, Applewood Red Okar and sweet vermouth).
The menu draws on former owner George Poulos’s Greek heritage. Designed for sharing, it includes mini spanakopita, zucchini keftedes and prawn saganaki. For something larger, there’s lamb or vegetarian moussaka or pulled lamb. For dessert the Robens’ offer loukoumades (Greek doughnuts).
The Robens’ retained many of the original features – including the bar’s high, pressed-tin ceilings, an elaborate fireplace and stained-glass windows at the front – but also added their own touches.
In the upstairs wine bar, Sydney graffiti artist Shanta has painted a wall-to-ceiling mural of the Greek god of wine. It sells mostly French and Australian labels and there's local live music. Outside, there’s an open-air courtyard finished with greenery and flowers planted by Tess’s mum.