If Winston Churchill were a millennial, this might just be his favourite bar
Until recently, finding classic cocktails and classic service in the Toorak, South Yarra and Prahran area was a tricky business. You’d need to either head north to the CBD or south to Windsor to find the cut crystal and suspendered ‘tenders you seek. But into this gap in the market as wide as Sir Winston’s waistline steps Rufus; a Churchill-themed bar named after his prized poodle, with all the Veuve and velvet anyone could ask for.
Windows on two sides offer a view out over the street from the first floor corner room. Crystal chandeliers suspended from high white ceilings make the space feel open and comfortable. It’s a formal affair, with waters and menus offered tableside, no bar to lean on and no place to stand. There’s also a darker lounge area with big chesterfield couches and an oddly proportioned portrait of Churchill gazing staunchly from above the mantle. Continue in this direction and you’ll find the door to a sizeable rooftop courtyard, simply furnished but perfect for enjoying one of the high-quality cigars on offer.
Winston’s love of drink is well documented, so it’s no surprise to see two of his favourites, gin and Champagne, get a good showing. The former is served as a Churchill Martini (one containing no vermouth), carefully recreated from the decanter-filled sideboard with Plymouth gin and bright green Sicilian olives – a vast improvement over the grey-green, pimento-stuffed numbers the poor old chap was probably subjected to in the 1940s. The glass is beautiful, although room temperature as it’s filled, making the drink instantly too warm. Other cocktails include well-made versions of classics from the first half of last century; simple, classy numbers like the Hanky Panky, and a few originals that stick to the theme.
The Champagne list is of course heavy on Pol Roger, the house Churchill favoured so much they named their Prestige Cuvee after him. There are plenty of other heavy hitters like Dom and Kristal, but in a venue with an obvious leaning towards fine French bubbles, it’s a shame they haven’t taken the opportunity to educate and explore the brilliant world of smaller grower producers, or offer more than two by the glass. There’s a good selection of brandy, whisky (although knowing your stuff helps – some of the prices are outlandish), and plenty of wine by the bottle should the silver ice bucket by your table look lonely. The only tipple of Sir Winston’s preference missing is sherry. Snacks include fresh oysters, a prawn cocktail that elicits childhood excitement for ‘fancy’ like no other dish can, and their signature lamb Yorkshire pudding; a tiny bite of chewy pastry and very lamby pulled lamb.
Churchill was famously quoted as being “easily satisfied with the best”, and while Rufus has the theme down pat, the devil’s in the details. If you’re going to serve $1,500 bottles of Champagne, there’s a level of sophistication that must come with the mark-up. That said, this is a lovely place to hang out and chat with friends over a classic cocktail, and if you prefer 1940s jazz to the thump of bass you’ll be as happy as a dog in the dining room.
143 Greville St
|Opening hours:||Daily 4pm-1am|