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