Does winter in Geelong leave you bored witless? Held on Friday afternoons until 10pm from July 8 to 22, Eat Street is part of the Tastes of Central Geelong food festival. So pull on your winter woollies, and head down to Little Malop Street, because local businesses are celebrating the best food and drink in the region.
“This is a great opportunity to showcase [our] wares and just get people excited about what’s on offer,” says Jon Helmer, director of Geelong Cellar Door.
“[It’s about] just seeing the heart of Geelong coming alive again. Because this is one of the last precincts that’s got that really old vibe of what used to happen, with beautiful old buildings.”
From Italian restaurant Caruggi, to coffee house Cartel, the west end of Little Malop street will be blocked off for the event, which boasts live music from the Workers Club, night-time shopping, and cosy heaters to warm up with under the stars.
“We really want to get a descent food and wine culture happening in the city. The wine and produce is on our doorstep, so we want to promote that,” shares Jon. “There’s a real revolution going on in food and wine in general.”
Literally and metaphorically the new kid on the block, Geelong Cellar Door is one of the few wine bars in the region. Opening at the beginning of June, they are the latest business to join the Little Malop Street revival, celebrating all Geelong has to offer.
“We’re lucky that developer Bill Votsaris has come in and is helping to turn things around,” says Jon, who’s business now take up the residence across from club Hashtag. “It’s great to be apart of that surge and ride the wave, because there’s so much more still to come.”
Born and bred in Geelong, Jon’s passion for our city is only rivalled by his love of good wine. Since entering the retail side of the industry in 1993, he’s worked and lived on the Geelong peninsula, the Surf Coast and Moorabool Valley.
“There had been nothing in the city for so long, and I’d see it and think, ‘Oh, someone’s got to do something. It’s got to happen, ’” shares Jon. “Rather than rushing it I looked at a lot of sites…and I told a friend of mine my plans. And he was on the lookout too.”
Coincidentally, that friend happened to be Beav of Geelong staple Beav’s Bar. They knew each other through Jon’s years playing the music circuit in the band Madhouse, and when the corner block at 95-97 Little Malop Street was brought by Votsaris, Beav gave Jon a head’s up.
“A couple of days later I was sitting down with Bill and I told him what I wanted to do, and the first words out of his mouth was, ‘perfect’. From there away we went, and it all started happening,” explains Jon.
With its 1800s architecture, exposed brick and high ceilings, Geelong Cellar Door is like a time capsule of Geelong’s rich heritage. Don’t get stuck on this remarkable building’s history though, because the wine bar is equal parts modern and charming. Refurbished floorboards add class to the venue, and a fireplace makes it a comfortable place to meet for after-work drinks.
“This venue is about wine and conversation. So you could come in, have a pre-dinner drink and get the vibe, then go out to dinner. There’s some beautiful restaurants around here and they’re all in walking distance,” says Jon.
“[There is a] safe environment now, especially down this way because there’s a lot more happening. And then to finish off the night you cold pop down to Beav’s or something like that. You’re always going to bump into someone you know.”
Geelong Cellar Door conveniently opened weeks before the Tastes of Central Geelong event, and just in time to join fellow Little Malop Street venues, Pistol Pete’s, The Workers Club, Caruggi, #Hashtag, Cartel Coffee and Blackman’s Brewery, to pair up for several music and food nights as part of the celebrations.
The Eat Street nights run for the first time this year, and having been involved in Tastes of Central Geelong before, Pistol Pete’s owner Pete Raimondo sees the value of the near month-long event.
“[Tastes of Central Geelong] helped expose us and what we do to people who hadn’t been down in our end of town for a while,” Pete says.
“[ToCG] helps to re-engage people to the businesses outside of the shopping centres. It makes them aware of any new and unique businesses that have opened up. It also showcases what a diverse and interesting food and coffee culture we have in the CBD. More importantly, it is helping to bring back “life” into our city by making people more aware of what is here on offer.”
Whether you’re a wine newbie or a connoisseur, partial to a good meal or a lover of music, the Eat Street nights will offer up several hours for you to enjoy all of that and more, and in a local business operated by passionate owners.
“People are a lot more food and coffee savvy these days and it’s wonderful to see we have some interesting and unique places for them to experience,” Pete says.
For many heading along to the event, they will be visiting Geelong Cellar Door for the first time ever. And there are a few points of difference with the wine bar and retail store.
“We’re all local—it’s all about providing a facility for a lot of labels. Some labels don’t have cellar doors, so I just wanted to create a real home for Geelong wines,” explains Jon.
“You go over to the wine wall and all the prices are retail. You can either take wine home with you, because we have an off-premise licence, or you choose to select a bottle and have it here—it’s just $10 corkage. So that makes it a really reasonable.”
Coming to Geelong Cellar Door is like going home. The architecture is industrial and cosy, the food and drink is akin to Melbourne cafes, and the venue features some of the best items in the region. Just ask Jon—he has a Pinot Noir vine mounted above the fireplace that dates back to 1868. He says it comes from Ceres and beams as he tells me about Geelong’s iconic wine history.
Jon’s Geelong Cellar Door is reminiscent of a city rekindling its passion for all the best things in the region and the Tastes of Central Geelong events simply reinforces this sentiment.
Come and experience Geelong Cellar Door and other local businesses at Eat Street in July. You’ll have a great night out, and be supporting some good friends at the same time.
“There’s going to be a huge array of fantastic food and drink on offer,” says Jon.
“Why not enjoy the middle of winter, go out and catch up with some friends? Eat and drink and be happy!”
Written by Jessica Morris
Eat Street is on July 8, 15 and 22 from 12pm-10pm at Little Malop Street West. Tastes of Central Geelong runs from July 5-26 with events on day and night. Visit the website (www.centralgeelong.com.au) for more information and to purchase tickets.
This was published as the cover story for Forte Magazine issue #642 on June 24, 2016. Read it here.