By Sophie Berrill
A new bar in Flinders Lane’s Tavistock House is steeped in Melbourne’s history, from its location inside one of Victoria’s oldest hotels to its namesake: the now demolished Yarra Falls.
Its Irish owner Brendan Keown came to Melbourne three years ago via London and Sydney and has probably researched more local history in his spare time than most people raised in Melbourne.
“I’m a bit of a nerd. I love reading my story, ”Keown said.
Getting to grips with the city’s past was also part of his previous job of running an hour capsule cocktail bar at The Espy in St Kilda, which was why Keown moved to Melbourne. He can grow lyrical about colonial businessman Alfred Felton and how the National Gallery of Victoria came to have one of the world’s largest art collections.
“I really like [Melbourne]. I never think it will be really well explained. People are always like, “Oh, it’s very European,” he said. “I understand why people say that, but I think it sells Melbourne short … I think ‘complex’ is a better word to describe it.”
After attending Wurundjeri Elder Aunt Joy Murphy’s Welcome to Country at his 2019 citizenship ceremony, Keown felt a greater responsibility to engage with First Nations cultures in a way appropriate for a non-native Australian.
“As an Australian now, you not only like to take pot-shots on the history of this country, you have to own it a little bit too,” he said.
He read several resources and had ongoing paid talks with local land councils in the process of creating his first venture, which not only serves native botanical plants but pays homage to historic Yarra Falls.
The city of Melbourne was built around Yarra Falls, which was on the site of today’s Queen’s Bridge. Once a meeting place for the Kulin Nations Peoples, Yarra Falls was blown up in 1883 to make room for ships and avoid flooding.
All the chairs inside Keown’s establishment point to a wide, rushing water element behind the bar, an artistic fantasy of Yarra Falls. It has a real presence along with the constellation of used glassware in the attic of the narrow space, which seats 25 intimate guests. The curved bar top itself is made from recycled fibrous bark. Creating a sense of place was really important to Keown.
“The music is also the majority of Melburnian, Australian or indigenous artists, which is a little fun,” Keown said.
Even the bathroom, affectionately labeled “DUNNY”, has Triple R played on the speakers.
Yarra Falls’ well-thought-out seasonal menu ties it all together. It offers a couple of hearty bar snacks, beers, wines and cocktails, many of which have native ingredients like yam vodka, macadamia liqueur and salted myrtle honey, and they come from indigenously owned and supportive businesses.
But Keown said they had not strapped in a “straight jacket.” You can also sip a premium from Taiwan and of course an Irish whiskey.
“A bit of the world is also coming to Melbourne. You know what I mean? So we always have a little bit of the world. ”
Yarra Falls is located at 381 Flinders Lane and is open Wednesday through Saturday, at 7 p.m. 17.00-01.00 •