Published on 13 January 2021
Picture yourself being poolside at a motel. Now take away the pool. Now add a cinema screen. And some food and wines from an outstanding eatery and bar. Position this picture on top of a building in the heart of the Melbourne CBD and – voila! – you’re at the new Embla Rooftop Bar and Cinema, which opens at the end of January.
“We’re finishing painting it now,” says Embla co-owner Christian McCabe. It’s a blue-green shade that reminds him of a 1980s Ford Cortina. “We’ve got stripy yellow deckchairs, a few party flags, a catering marquee and a nice view.” The marquee plus the kitchen from Lesa, the restaurant upstairs from Embla which has been sitting idle in the pandemic, will be the engines for the food.
Chef and co-owner Dave Verheul is in the process of finalising a menu of dishes McCabe says are similar to what he cooks at Embla, but not as elaborate. “And instead of a dark, smoky wine bar you’ll be on a hopefully sunny, hopefully warm-but-not-too warm rooftop.” It’s things you can comfortably eat with one hand while you hold a drink or sit in a deckchair watching a movie, essentially. Summery things will at the fore, along with some candy-bar fare, including not one but two flavours of popcorn. A couple of old favourites from The Town Mouse, the venue McCabe and Verheul ran in Carlton, will also make an appearance, the intercostals with green goddess dressing among them, along with lamb ribs and some seafood. Wine-wise the lean is towards “fizzy, white and rosé-like red”, and if you want to push the boat out with something a bit more special from the Embla list “it can probably be arranged”.
The films are a mix of “a few cult things and quite a few happy, mainstream things”, says McCabe. “We’re not trying to be super-edgy. It’s a temporary, non-intellectual, fun place to eat and drink and restore a bit of familiarity to the lives of Melburnians.” The 1993 Tony Scott/Quentin Tarantino adventure True Romance kicks off the program on 29 January. Other confirmed picks include Kevin Smith’s debut, Clerks, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a lock for Waitangi Day. Embla being a venue noted for its wine, Alexander Payne’s Sideways will feature, too. “We won’t serve any merlot that night,” adds McCabe
The movies will be ticketed, but the bar will open for walk-ins from 3pm. With the screenings not starting till sundown (which is after 8pm right now) and with the rooftop offering space beyond the cinema, there’s also plenty of scope in this new venture for those who prefer to make eating and drinking the main attraction. There’ll be walk-ins for those spots early in the week, McCabe says, and you’ll be able to make bookings on the busier nights.
That said, the whole adventure has arisen because the building, which has for decades been home to the Melbourne Theosophical Society, is to be demolished. McCabe says they hope to be able to trade till at least Easter, but beyond that can't say how long it'll be around. "And what better way to usher in the Age of Aquarius than at the Theosophical Society?"
Embla Rooftop Bar and Cinema, open from 29 January, 3pm-11pm Wed-Sun, rooftop, 126 Russell St, Melbourne, embla.com.au/rooftop-bar-and-cinema.
By Pat Nourse
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