Is new Collingwood bar Commis the bar everyone wants as their local? Certainly, its pedigree points in the direction: co-owners Daniel Docherty and Gabriel de Melo Freire are both veterans of Rathdowne Street landmark Gerald’s Bar, a venue considered by many observers to be the ultimate neighbourhood bar. And while Commis, the bar they’ve opened with fellow co-owner Adina Weinstein, is its own thing, you can see the family resemblance when you look for it – or rather, you can feel it. There’s a warmth and welcome here that’s instantly attractive.
It’s pronounced “commie”, as in commis chef, the name a nod to the owners’ dyed-in-the-wool passion for hospitality, and their love of the trade. Just like Mario Di Ienno and Gerald Diffey, their mentors at Gerald’s Bar, they love their work, and are tuned into details big and small, from the big-picture buzz of the room to the fine-grained details of list, lighting and service. Case in point: staff meal is on the menu. For $15 you can score a plate of whatever the kitchen knocked up for the team before service.
If you’re looking for something a little more, they’ve got it. De Melo Freire isn’t a trained chef (you might know him better as a DJ and bartender), but he’s an inventive cook, and his intuition is good. He likes to source his proteins from the wild or from lesser-loved parts of the animal where he can, and the results are consistently delicious. Chicken-soup croquettes could be the liquid-centred love-children of dadinho and xiaolongbao, while chicory and parsley make the nice green foil to a hearty slice of brawn. Skewers of grilled chicken oysters and hearts are a nod to De Melo’s Brazilian heritage, while the likes of nettle gnudi and mushroom broth and salsify with Russian kale speak to his love of small farms and his own prowess in the garden. The sides are a knockout, too, the leaf salad and the broccolini with miso both essential eating. It’s great stuff.
It’s not a restaurant, mind you, and they don’t really want to call it a wine bar, despite the fact that wine is a feature, and it looks in most respects like, well, a wine bar. Docherty says he likes the idea of “third spaces”; places that aren’t private and aren’t exactly public, but that are still open to everyone. That, plus cocktails, food, music and wine, is Commis. And art.
It might seem redundant talking art at venue directly opposite Collingwood Yards arts precinct, but thanks to Adina Weinstein, this place has some serious chops in the pictures department. Like, serious. Yes, that is a real Miro hanging by the bar, and yep, if that lithograph there and that etching over there put you in mind of Picasso and Dali, well … take a closer look. (And yep, they’re for sale.)
Drinks? Tom Hope, another familiar face from Gerald’s, throws a mighty fine Martini (or an even better dirty Gibson), and presents elegant, lesser-seen options like the Adonis, a classic combination of sherry and Italian vermouth stirred down with orange bitters.
The wine list is a hoot. You can read it from either side, taking the scenic route or the straighter path. Either way it brims with great things to drink and personality to burn. You’ll want to pore over the headier “expressionist version”, savouring the details – so it’s a good thing it features a section at the front called A Quick Drink While I Think About What I Really Want. With that safely in hand you can leaf at leisure through pages with titles such as Tom Hanks (“Wines that everybody likes”), Drinking with the In-Laws (“Elegant examples of old-school styles”) and Cork Dorks and Bottle Jockeys (“Rare, strange and intriguing”). Better still, there’s plenty here under $80 a bottle, plenty of it under the Wednesday Night Wines chapter. We’ll drink to that.
And the Butterbeer? Commis is the furthest thing from a Harry Potter-inspired Hogwarts tribute bar – Hogsmeade it ain’t – so it might be useful to think of it as a seasonal special rather than a staple. Having said that, Docherty’s concoction of dark rum, Licor 43 liqueur, Mill stout, butter and spices, served hot from a tiny glass mug is like nectar on a cold night, so you won’t want to miss it.
Commis Bar, 5pm-11pm Tues-Sat, 56-58 Johnston St, Collingwood, @commismelbourne