Wesley Place precinct is a time portal back to ye olden days, with preserved heritage buildings and conservation efforts paying tribute to an important historical moment in time for Melbourne. Nestled humbly within this precinct, behind the Wesley Church and beside a resilient olive tree with origins dating back further than 1875, is the Caretaker’s Cottage. It's now a bustling, albeit pint-sized public bar where you can feel part of Melbourne’s history, and its future, all at the same time.
While the outside of the cottage may say "Gothic Revival architecture", the inside says "intimate house party at your parents’ cool friend’s house". Stepping across the threshold, the D’Angelo record blasting through imposing speakers (from Tasmanian company Pitt and Giblin), built-in turntables and mixer behind the bar, and an envy-inducing vinyl collection make it clear that while the drinks comes first, music is a close second here. Just like any good house party really.
The drinks menu is strictly curated. Just three classic and three contemporary cocktails; a rotating Martini and Milk Punch (the latter an ode to its English pub inspirations); six varieties of wine by the glass; and a slightly larger selection of beers, with the Guinness on tap being a house favourite. That we need not spend an hour poring over the drinks menu, we are relieved.
Waitstaff and bartenders, clad in white aprons, well-informed and just the right level of friendly and attentive, are themselves a drawcard of the Caretaker’s Cottage. They help steer us, when we say we feel like something refreshing, towards the Perfect Lady. A classic cocktail done here with Beefeater Gin, crème de pêche and lemon. For the price of a cocktail these days, we are never not shocked at the small size of the receptacle they often arrive in. Yet the tall-stemmed coupe glass holds more than meets the eye, and by the last few sips, the gin has gently warmed us up and left us thirsty for more.
Next up we try the Sergio Ramos: a Piña Colada play on a Ramos Gin Fizz. This thick-as-a-milkshake cocktail is a pleasurable potion of Chivas Regal 12-year-old scotch, Piña Colada liqueur, coconut cream, lemon and StrangeLove pear soda, which requires a spoon to scoop out the last few foamy mouthfuls. It does the trick, if we close our eyes hard enough, of transporting us to a sunscreen-scented, sunny, poolside resort.
To eat, we can’t help but order the country loaf; the perfectly crunchy crust and chewy interior of the bread is telling of its Falco Bakery origins. And like a lick of liquified licorice, the accompanying fennel seed butter slathered on top makes this savoury snack the perfect complement to our sweet drinks. So too is the house pickle plate, with the pickled fennel cleverly carrying the aniseed notes across the table. And if you have cancelled your previously planned dinner arrangements because you are tempted to listen to just one more record, fear not – there are surprisingly substantive food options too: winter soup with bread, Welsh rarebit, and bangers and mash with Guinness gravy.
Caretaker’s Cottage was built in 1914 by Ronald A Derrick, the secretary of the Wesleyan Sunday School, and remarkably served as the caretaker’s home until the 1990s. Looking forward to the future, we suspect the Caretaker’s Cottage will continue to cement itself as an important player of the Melbourne bar scene. It's warm and cosy, lively and jovial, modern and fresh – but grounded in yesteryear.