I was looking for a place to store wine for The Grill (one of the three restaurants under Grossi’s flagship) while we were renovating.
When that renovation was complete, we thought this space could be used for something else, like a bar,” says restaurateur Guy Grossi, who engaged Six Degrees to rework this ‘hole in a wall’.
The fairly rudimentary space could have simply continued to be a wine storage facility indefinitely had it not been for the enthusiasm of Grossi, his team and the architects who worked on this project.
“We were extremely keen to enliven this lane.
It’s typical of many Melbourne laneways,” says architect Mark Healy, director of Six Degrees, who worked closely with project architect John Haiku.
“We inherited a fairly basic shell, with concrete floors and concrete block walls, and our brief was to create a space that could be fit for ‘The Last Supper’,” says Haiku.
Healy’s recollection of the initial briefing from Grossi was to ‘do all your “groovy” stuff to this place and make it more of a destination point’.
One of the initial challenges in the renovation was having sufficient space to create both a bar and a place that could host dining events for up to 24 people, as well as a place to store wine.
Fortunately, at the start of the process, it was discovered that underneath some loose timber boards there was a couple of additional metres below to work with.
When the false plaster ceiling was removed, the opportunity also lent itself to create a vaulted ceiling (with mechanical equipment concealed behind new walls).
“We thought the idea of a barrel-vaulted ceiling lined in cork seemed appropriate, given what this place is and the ambience we were trying to create,” says Healy.
During the day, before 3.00pm when Arlechin opens, the exterior is virtually blank, with black charred timber walls and a secured grill providing anonymity.
However, when its open, a hatch in the wall comes down and clients spill into the laneway.
With the brief to create a flexible space, the pint-size room morphs from individual benches and stools to one continuous dining table for events.
Tabletops placed against a stucco wall are simply added onto the existing tables.
“We then call this ‘The Last Supper table’,” says Healy, who with his team, designed the unusual laser-cut steel lights on a pulley system that can be easily adjusted to suit the required table heights.
When Grossi used the term ‘groovy’ as part of the brief, Six Degrees reached deep and wide.
It responded with rough stucco walls (think hip-1970s) and leadlight panels cut into the black steel wine storage system that has access both sides (one being down a few steps behind).
Other features include a discretely placed window in a rear wall, separating the stainless steel kitchen from patrons.
“The chef also wants to be able to see what’s going on,” says Haiku.
To reinvigorate this lane, Grossi commissioned a street artist to create a wall mural on the late 1960s brown brick building that would act as a signpost.
Artist Mike Makatron came up with a cheeky character that’s part harlequin and part food, with fragments of food continuing down the laneway.
This new bar is timely not just for Melbourne, but also for Six Degrees, whose first bar in the city’s laneways, located at Meyers Place, was one of the practice’s first commissions almost 25 years ago (but no longer in operation).
“I love the atmosphere of this place. It’s cosy and warm, and you could say just a little cheeky,” adds Grossi.