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Souvlaki bar wraps up migrant life

Fitzroy's Jimmy Grants takes us back to the 1950s and '60s, writes Stephen Crafti.

Fitzroy's Jimmy Grants takes us back to the 1950s and '60s, writes Stephen Crafti.

This building in St David Street, Fitzroy, was originally a humble worker's cottage. Built in the late 1800s, the cottage has had various uses, the most recent a spice and food retailer. But George Sykiotis of Made Establishment was keen to create a new offering, Jimmy Grants, a bar and cafe.

Designed by Techne Architects, Jimmy Grants, which specialises in simple Greek fare, is the first of similar concepts. "Another Jimmy Grants will open at the Emporium [CBD]. Each one will have its own distinct feel, capturing the essence of the neighbourhood or precinct," says Nick Travers, co-director of Techne Architects.

Named after the term given to European migrants who came to Melbourne in the 1950s and '60s, this Jimmy Grants was inspired by the homes these migrants lived in when they first arrived, many in Fitzroy. "George didn't want the obvious Greek hallmarks, such as traditional blue-and-white colour scheme or urns you often see at the front entrance," says Travers.

The heritage-listed facade was simply sandblasted to expose the original bricks. This light-handed touch was also applied to the interior, a modest space of approximately 125 square metres.

"It was quite challenging fitting all the services into this space, including a kitchen, storage area, bar, together with a variety of seating areas," says Travers. "The design also had to appear quite relaxed. This place is not a restaurant and it's certainly not a fast-food outlet," he adds.

With the Greek-style backyard in the back of Techne Architects mind, the design centres on a tin shed. The walls of this shed, clad in metal roof decking, include glimpses into the galley-style kitchen. "We also thought about the shed immigrants would have passed through at the wharves in Port Melbourne when they first arrived," says Travers.

Another material that suggests the first foray into Melbourne is timber battened pine on one wall (like a suburban fence). Key to the design is also the murals and tagging by graffiti artist Dan Wenn. A large cruiser appears on one wall, with silhouettes of friends and family waiting for their loved ones in the foreground. Those migrants fortunate enough to take a shorter trip to Melbourne may have flown on the DC-3, also painted on the wall. "You see tagging all over Fitzroy, so the wall is quite full," says Travers.

Even the bar, centred in the middle of the space, is suburban. Complete with chunky Oregon shelves to store produce, there's the ubiquitous navy-and-white gingham curtain under bench.

"You often see this detail in kitchens from the '50s and '60s. And you can still see the gingham tablecloth in Greek restaurants today," says Travers. While all these references are heartfelt, Techne Architects still needed to accommodate 35 people seated on the premises. As a result, there is low bench seating at the front of Jimmy Grants, together with benches that wrap around the window. And at the rear of the place, is a dining area, with bar stools. "This isn't the type of place you come to for special events. It's the place where locals feel it's their hangout. The idea is for people to continually return," says Travers, who was delighted to see a queue extending down to Smith Street soon after the doors opened.

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