Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Jimmy Watsons - a Carlton institution

Jimmy Watson's Wine Bar in Carlton is an institution.  It has been there ever since I can remember but that is not enough reason to visit.  I'm not so into the wine.  The menu is far more favourable to carnivores than vegetarians.  What I go there for is the ambiance.  Who can resist the leafy beer garden on a balmy summer's evening.  It was a great place to grab a quick bite before heading off to see our first 3D movie, Hugo at Cinema Nova.

The menu says that they cater to vegetarian and gluten free diets.  They even have GF pizza bases.  Yet when I asked what was in the vegetarian pizza, I was flippantly told it had vegetables.  Finally I was told it included pumpkin and asked if I would eat feta.  Huh?  Not quite as welcoming to vegetarians as the menu suggests.  It was an unfortunate attitude because my pizza - topped with tomato sauce, cheese, pumpkin, feta, baby spinach, tahini sauce and almonds on a crisp base - was truly wonderful.  I also saw a platter of antipasto and chips pass by me that looked rather good.  NB We ordered before the full dinner menu was available at 6pm.

I love the dark wine bar interior but it is the beer garden that beckons me.  Occasionally noisy or smoky, I find the place convivial.  I have had some lovely evenings with colleagues in search of a fine after work bottle of wine.  Surrounded by bamboo greenery, it is shady, and usually filled with interesting people.  The area is unexpected given the austere white exterior that I have always found quite ugly.

Yet to read the history of Jimmy Watson's makes me appreciate how important the building is in reflecting something of Lygon Street's heritage.  This is the first cafe I have written up on my blog, that has sent me looking into my history books for background. The building was originally a nineteenth century building in 1935 when Jimmy Watson decided to open the bar to introduce patrons to fine wines.  He died in 1962, the same year that prominent Australian architect, Robin Boyd - a critic of ugly Australian buildings, redesigned the frontage in the Mediterranean style.  This was at a time when Melbourne's Victorian architecture with fine cast iron lace balconies were unappreciated.  Wheelan the Wrecker was knocking down some of our lovely old buildings.  I am glad that this cultural cringe has passed but today Jimmy Waton's is an architectural reminder of this time.  Quite fitting considering its important place in the social history.

Jimmy Watson's Wine Bar
333 Lygon Street Carlton
03 9347 3985

15 comments:

  1. There are definitely some places I go to for nostalgia and ambiance even though they're not super veg friendly. Sometimes that feeling is worth more than the food!

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    1. Thanks Joanne - I agree that you can miss out on some great places if you insist on great veg food as the only criteria

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  2. Always excited when I find a place that has GF Pizza bases!

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    1. Thanks Lisa - they said veg and GF options available on the menu but I never got the chance to check about the veg options so can't give much info but I am sure the menu also said they did GF pizza bases

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  3. How frustrating is it when they're all "Ooooh.. we have great vegetarian options", then they're mouthy to you about it. Like.. what does it achieve?

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    1. Thanks Matt - attitude is frustrating - it was done with a lot of humour but wore a bit thin!

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  4. Aren't non-vegetarians funny about vegetarian food? Mind you, I suppose I'm pretty ignorant about different cuts of meat, so perhaps it's just the same in reverse. Anyway, I'm glad your pizza was good!

    I'm also very curious to hear how you found Hugo! Did you like it? I would say it's a good starting point for 3D :)

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    1. Thanks Kari - I think that no everyone appreciates vegetables that way we do - but those in the kitchen seemed to so that was pleasing!

      Love Hugo - such a lovely story, beautiful scenes and details, and afterwards we talked about how this film might spark an interest in cinema history - E loved seeing it in 3D but I didn't think it added heaps - however I can see it can be very effective in places. Oh and I loved the train careering off the tracks just like tootle. What did you think of it?

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    2. I loved it :) I generally don't like 3D but it was one of the few films where I found it enjoyable - although as you say not essential. The story captivated me though and we also liked the cinema history angle. Glad you enjoyed it!

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  5. So sad that all the wrought iron places were destroyed! I love old architecture and the stories it tells, and wish we weren't so quick to destroy things in Australia. Thanks for sharing J-lady! :)

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    1. Thanks Hannah - architectural history is so fascinating - amazing what the built environment can tell us and so sad when beautiful buildings are treated with such disregard - but reading the history of the building suddenly made sense of it for me

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  6. What a darling blog you have here. Thanks for your kind comment on my potato salad :), love your pancake recipe and your lovely green vintage kitchenware in your blog header.

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    1. Thanks Emma - nice of you to visit - and to admire my kitchenware and my blog :-)

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  7. Whenever you review a restaurant, I think, "Wow, I wish I could go there." This one in particular sounds so interesting, full of history and so lovely looking. Too bad about the negative reception (but at least the pizza was good). :)

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  8. I really love places with a lot of history to them. And it's great that we can now appreciate these buildings instead of wanting to tear them down :)

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