To me, the kiss wall says it all: We LOVE Cookie! But answering what should be the simplest questions (what is it and why do we love it so much?) is not so simple after all.
Is it a dining hall, a beer café, a disco, a restaurant, a cocktail bar or a frat house? What is it about Cookie that makes it one of Melbourne’s most enduring and popular haunts?
Not only an institution for locals, Cookie is also a bucket-list destination for visitors to the city. Its Curtin House location means it equally attracts tourists that stumble across it while checking out the building and those with it marked on their map.
Built in the 1920s the Art Nouveau building has an infamous past with earlier lives as a brothel, headquarters for The Communist Party and a sex cinema. It was originally called The Tattersall’s Building, but sometime after WWII was renamed after former Prime Minister John Curtin.
After decades of neglect, its current owner and fifth floor resident, Tim Peach acquired the derelict building in the early naughties. The entrepreneur had a vision and set about to restore it with the help of architect Phillip Schemnitz. Since then Curtin House has been in somewhat of a renaissance.
Enter Curtin House off the city’s main strip, discordant Swanston Street with its disturbing cheap Asian shops, restaurants and homelessness. The diversion offers six floors of marble and brass detailed subterrane.
Don’t be dissuaded by the dark, stone cold lobby and stairwell as each of the levels promises a fascinating different experience. As you peel back the layers of Curtin House you’ll find artist studios, fashion houses, bookstores, nightclubs, drinking dens, restaurants and one of the most spectacular city views from its rooftop cinema.
As Melbourne as our hidden alleys, Curtin House has been dubbed a vertical laneway, and the first stop on this laneway tour is Cookie.
You might not give the fox and the rabbit on the entrance door much thought. You can be excused for taking the illustration for granted as if it were just a fanciful logo for the venue. But step inside and you’ll be wondering what fantasy you’ve stumbled into.
Cookie is like a scene from a Golden Book – curious, whimsical and eccentric. Adding to the irony is the bountiful collection of classical storybooks displayed like stage props.
That’s what Cookie is, ironic. Aside from its slightly crazy fairytale proposition, it’s a melting pot of demographics in a large open space containing a juxtaposition of contrasting elements.
Everyone has a unique interpretation of Cookie depending on an array of different experiences purported by the place. The venue takes on different contexts depending on whether you’re on a date, lunching, having after work drinks, or partying with friends on a Saturday night. Where you choose to sit or perch, what time of day or night you are there, what characters you meet or come across, what music is playing, and whether you’re there to eat or drink or eat & drink, are all factors that influence the personal meaning Cookie takes on for separate individuals.
While it’s difficult for people to either explain or agree on what Cookie is, people are unanimous that they love Cookie, they’re just not sure why. The subliminal affect of the nostalgia is ingenious really as it transports us into memories of childhood influences to form a subconscious bond with the place, whether it’s Nanna’s kitchen or story time.
Just one of five venues owned by Melbourne nightclub baron Camillo Ippoliti, Cookie has been delighting us for eleven years. The interior concept was modeled primarily on an Austrian beer café in keeping with the European style of the building, and then seamlessly teamed with one of Melbourne’s best Thai food menus and a World-renowned cocktail bar. It might sound like a hodgepodge but it works, delivering one of the best hospitality experiences the city has to offer every time.
Clever architecture and design are as much a part of Cookie as the food and drink. In all his venues, Camillo intelligently and subtly utilises space, light, art, textures, shapes and patterns to create a particular affect. As a customer you are not meant to see all this, just feel it; they are latent signals to the unconscious.
So hand on my heart I can tell you I love Cookie, just like I loved my Nana, so next time you’re there leave a kiss from me.
I’ve heard of people missing the cocktail bar at Cookie altogether. The intimate little bar is tucked around the back. I highly recommended seeking it out if you wish to escape the madness of the dining hall.
The bar team is headed up by Nick Selvadurai, world-class bartender. Even though Cookie’s menu offers an amazing ten pages of cocktails and an extensive spirits list, Nick has designed a menu according to his philosophy, “the 3 I’s”: interesting, innovative and not intimidating.
As the first stop for many of the city’s tourists, bar staff see themselves as having two roles: to introduce people to cocktails and encourage them to try new things, and as traffic conductors, directing visitors on to other venues and attractions; so they must have excellent knowledge of the city, as well as exceptional knowledge and skills in their trade.
I’ve had many cocktails at Cookie, but for this article I headed to Cookie with a buddy of mine, Sandy Rogulic, a talented Melbourne photographer who is well known around town for her impressive shots of people on You’re Melbourne.
Classic Bloody Mary
Made with Cookie’s closely guarded “bloody pickle mix”, order this baby as spicy as you like you on a scale of tiny tingle to bloody hell. The perfect hangover cure or breakfast cocktail, but any time is as good as any for a Bloody Mary.
Spring Blossom Cup
Fresh, vibrant and floral like spring, this cocktail is crisp and refreshing. We especially enjoyed the flavour and length in the celery bitters. Shaken with Sipsmith Summer Cup, Absolut Pears, Blood Orange Syrup, Lemon juice, honey syrup and celery bitters. The perfect start to an evening or an ideal complement to Thai food.
Pair the classic bourbon based cocktail Milk Punch with the concept of dipping vanilla ice cream into salted popcorn at the movies and you’ve got the Feature Presentation. This signature cocktail creation is as an ode to the Rooftop Cinema upstairs.
Bulleit Bourbon, dry chocolate spirit, soy milk, tartaric acid, egg white, popcorn syrup and a vanilla salt rim. Delicious and decadent, this cocktail tasted amazing. Salty from the rim with acidic green apple and a natural sweetness from the vanilla infused salt rim, it delivered an explosion in your mouth and then a silky mouth-feel from the soy.
Aromatic and digestif, boozy and straight-up, this is typical of the prohibition style cocktails popular around town. Stirred with Jameson Irish Whisky, Punt e Mes, Grand Marnier liqueur, bitters, Fernet-Branca and an orange twist. Blending spirits and ingredients that bartenders like to use, this is perfect for after-dinner or just as a long sipper.
Gin or vodka. Dirty or dry with olives or a lemon twist. The perfect nightcap.
Open 12 p.m. – 3 a.m., 7 days
First Floor, 252 Swanston Street, Melbourne
“Reality is an illusion created by a lack of alcohol.”
– N.F. Simpson