By Edward Washington
Squirreled away in Melbourne’s South Yarra residential district is the newly launched venue The Millswyn and its ‘secret’ hideaway cocktail bar, Bar 132. It’s a unique sort of venue for the area and offers chic bistro style service for those who want to have a more formal dining experience, or a shared long table in the bar area which is a good place to perch and enjoy rabbit terrine and a well made Manhattan cocktail. Then there’s Bar 132 – the out of sight cocktail bar that exists in its own right.
“132 was born out of a love of the hidden,” says venue owner Davis Yu. “The name is derived from the space left in The Millswyn’s address (131-133 Domain Road), so 132 doesn’t exist then except as an in between space, inside The Millswyn.” Not a bad moniker for a bar that takes its inspiration from the clandestine ‘speakeasy’ that had its halcyon days in early 21st century America.
Whatever the inspiration for the venue The Millswyn seems to be hitting enough of the right notes with the locals – it’s brimming with activity on a Thursday night and the staff are affable, sharp and on the ball. “We threw our doors open to the public at the beginning of November 2010,” says Yu, “[With the name] we wanted to evoke a sense of timelessness and the elegance this venue brings – an avoidance of anything faddish that would detract from a sense of authenticity.”
Yu says the team was very conscious of the Millswyn’s residential location and their vision was to create a venue that stayed true to the local South Yarra residents’ needs and style. Yu’s experience in the restaurant industry has helped this in no small part, and he sees The Millswyn as the culmination of his love for incredible food and smart design.
“There are several other more casual eateries on Domain Road, says Yu. “The Millswyn differentiates itself by our chic, strong aesthetic and the quality of our French-inspired menu.”
The venue’s structure is a converted townhouse with a number of different rooms available, and Yu says: “this gives us the ability to offer a wide range of experiences from casual street-side brassiere through to formal fine dining with the choice of multiple private rooms.” The exterior aesthetic also allows The Millswyn to fit seamlessly into the residential ‘feel’ of the area – the locals know it’s there, but you need to look to find it.
The Millswyn stands where the long established Lynch’s used to be, a former haunt for Prime Ministers and what Yu calls the ‘power elites’. While this gave the venue a geographical presence worth keeping, negotiating the lasting legacy of the old venue when trying to create something new was a challenge, but one that the team says they revelled in.
“Melbournians know quality and demand it – that is what we concentrate on providing.” Davis Yu, owner The Millswyn.
The new site benefited from some serious designer input with interior masterminds Hecker & Guthrie helping to bring Yu’s ideas to fruition. The design is understated according to Yu and takes its cue from the clean minimalism of Scandinavia. All the rooms are completed with objects that betray sophistication and the result is a truly beautiful space.
Hecker & Guthrie have a long and distinguished list of designs behind them including Melbourne’s Longrain, Comme and the lobby of the Ivy in Sydney, as well as major projects spread throughout South East Asia. “Working with people who not only understand your ideas but also challenge you to perfect them is always an honour,” says Yu.
“With much enthusiasm overriding the effects of only limited sleep the project came together extremely quickly, Yu states. “The idea was consolidated, design was perfected, the immaculate fit out was completed and the doors were opened all in about four months – this stands as testament to the fact that no deadline is too tight.”
It wasn’t all smooth sailing however, and no venue is complete without its share of hiccups and challenges. “Despite the best-laid plans we were forced to go back to the drawing board on the kitchen space after we had started the fit out,” Yu said. “Fortunately everything came together in the end and head chef Nathan Johnson and his team have what they need to concoct culinary magic.”
Aside from the physical completion Yu concedes “the biggest challenge [for a new venture] is always staffing. The concept may be enticing, the building gorgeous, the location enviable, but it is the people that make or break a venue.” With this on his mind, he worked very hard to put together a team of passionate industry professionals standing the venue the best chance of success.
The Millswyn’s emphasises cocktails at their very best, along with an enviable and thoughtful wine list. The lists are managed by head barman Ian Riley (featured in April’s Introducing section) and mixology maestro Chris Stock with these two dedicated to ensuring The Millswyn is a discerning drinker’s utopia, without pretension and without gimmicks (note again, the very well made Manhattan).
If it is dinner that you’re heading in for then Head chef Nathan Johnston is the man who’s driving The Millswyn’s gastronomic offering. Johnston has worked at some of the top international restaurants (the Michelin starred The Square and Claridges, London and Banc, Sydney) and he now brings this wealth of experience to the South Yarra food scene.
“We have established ourselves firmly in the local community,” says Yu. We get locals luxuriating over a weekend brunch, having a longer lunch, an intimate dinner or a celebratory feast. Some of the most heartening feedback we are getting from locals is the praise for our special Sunday Roast menu, which is an old-school celebration of all that Sundays should be.”
Yu puts the growing list The Millswyn’s successes down to the quality of their offering. “Melbournians know quality and demand it,” he states. “That is what we concentrate on providing – unrivalled dining and drinking experience in an environment to match.”
Wines by the glass
- 2008 Daniel Dampt Chablis AC – $14.5
- 2009 Cullen ‘Mangan’ Malbec Blend – $17
- 2009 La Spinetta Moscato d’Asti – $10
- Sanchez Romate ‘Iberia’ Cream Sherry – $10
The room’s design tips its hat to the American joints that ruled and roared during the heady early days of cocktails and the contemporary cocktails have benefited from years of experimentation. Ingredients and techniques have matured and gastronomy has bled into mixology and the result is an art-meets-science style of offering.
“Bar 132 attracts a discerning crowd of drinkers who are keen to relax in an intimate environment,” says Yu. The aim of the clandestine boozer is to be able to provide the client with close attention and quality drinks rather than simply limiting the interaction to the fleeting moment at the bar.
This is a similar mantra to the one being spruiked at Black Pearl‘s new addition, The Attic, where staff spend time on the floor so as to engage more with the customer, moving away from the fleeting moment of connection at the busy bar.
“This is often a couple unwinding over a cocktail after their meal or a small group of friends who come solely for the bar,” says Yu of 132. “The immaculate space has also unsurprisingly proven to be very popular with those wishing to hold a private function.”
The drinks ordered are varied, but a favourite would have to be the Pillars of Empire; gin, kumquat and Earl Grey tea, and the Raspberry & Hibiscus Sonnet; a martini of raspberry and hibiscus infused vodka.