A new bar with 400 gins

Author: Larissa Dubecki
Photography: Anson Smart

You mightn't know the name but if you take your booze at all seriously you ought to know the face. James Tait has been the bar guy at a slew of Melbourne's finest - from Der Raum and Black Pearl to his current incarnation as sommelier at Lee Ho Fook - and in September he'll be throwing open the doors on his own juke joint.

Gin Lane will be a co-production with his wife, Cara Tait, a former financial controller at Coda and Tonka, and serial hospitality entrepreneur Peter Bartholomew. The man behind Rosa's Kitchen and Canteen, Lee Ho Fook, MoVida and many more, Bartholomew has form when it comes to talent-spotting, although this marks his first foray into the world of bars.

"He's pretty excited about the whole thing, actually," says Tait, a Scot who arrived in Australia six years ago. "We all have different talents to bring to the table."

Gin Lane Melbourne, which takes its name from British artist William Hogarth's 1751 print depicting the evils of gin consumption, will stock 400 varieties of mother's ruin, around 20 beers ("we don't have room for that many") and will have a strong wine offering. "I've been into the wine side of things for about three years now so I'm pretty keen on having a really good list. I'll keep it nice and affordable, with plenty of interesting wines."

He promises a "secret weapon" in the food department - a consultant chef with a big reputation - but won't divulge any details, save to say the bar will open with a simple bistro offering.

Project architects Mills Gorman, who were responsible for neighbouring Ombra, are planning a fit-out that's "bright, organic, fresh and light. There's a lot of greenery in Melbourne's bar scene at the moment, but we're making a statement that we're not one of those dingy places."

After lengthy delays, the project was green-lit a few weeks ago by a council decision to let Bartholomew and Tait build another floor on the existing building at the top of Bourke Street (the ground-floor tenant is Flight Centre).

"We had the first floor already and we could have been trading for the past year, but it was so important to us to have the second floor, which will be two-thirds outdoors," says Tait. "I just want a great place to enjoy a drink on a sunny afternoon or a warm evening, a place with really fantastic serviceā€¦ that good old-fashioned hospitality."

Gin Lane Melbourne, 19-21 Bourke St, Melbourne, Vic, ginlanemelbourne.com.au

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