Thomas Olive is a cosy bar perched above iconic Smith Street, Collingwood on top of restaurant Saint Crispin. Based on its location alone, I knew that there would be a fascinating story to discover.
The inner-city suburb is one of Melbourne’s oldest postcodes. It’s an urban-scape of old buildings, warehouses, factories, shops and laneways from a bygone era.
During the late 1800s Smith Street and Chapel Street were Melbourne’s dominant shopping strips. Charming historic buildings and 19th century architecture remind us of our city’s rich history and culture.
Today, Collingwood is a melting pot, known for its eccentric characters, young rich, homeless and hipsters forming one of Melbourne’s most eclectic communities. It is a top destination for restaurant and café dining, as well as bars and pubs. I’m almost certain Collingwood also has the most beards.
The entrance to Saint Crispin is adorned in decorative wrought iron gates and window grills. It says a lot about the contrasts of its location.
I enter Saint Crispin and am escorted through the restaurant, into the courtyard, through an outside entrance and up a steep and narrow spiral staircase. The building is beautiful and maintains much of its original character and styling details enhance its old-worldly appeal.
Arriving at Thomas Olive I’m greeted by smiling faces and enthusiastic hellos. I’ll be honest, it took me by surprise as I was expecting something with a bit more attitude, perhaps more stiff. As it turns out this place is very different to my expectations, and far from stiff.
Even the music is surprising and curious with back-to-back classic R&B from legends Notorious BIG to Mos. Def. to Blackstreet. It’s a fun and welcome change. I always feel a bit nostalgic when I hear 90s R&B and 80s pop. Let’s admit we all love it.
It’s still early evening, day light savings time and the room is filled with the afternoon light which is beaming through the large glass windows.
For a moment I appreciated the intimacy and ambiance of the bar, imagining it when the sun goes down and the glittering candles and dim overhead chandelier are the only things that light the stylish room. It’s all quite classic and masculine with large chesterfield lounges and Vienna tables & chairs, all washed in black along with the walls and fine details. Intriguingly the grandfather clock is permanently stuck on 1 o’clock.
My first question: Who is Thomas Olive?
During the fit-out of Saint Crispin downstairs, which exposed the original brick wall, they found a plaque with the name Thomas Olive on it. They researched the building’s heritage and discovered its first owner was a shoemaker called Thomas Olive.
As they explored the buildings history, they discovered that Thomas Olive was an eccentric man and an original Collingwood gangster with a superiority complex. In fact, he called himself SIR THOMAS OLIVE. The court tried to place an injunction on him for misusing the honorary title, but Thomas claimed that it was simply an informal address as Sir and not the type of Knights and Dames, which got him off.
In tribute, the restaurant was named after the patron saint of shoemaking, Saint Crispin, and the shoemaking theme stuck. Upstairs the homage to Thomas Olive extends to the major showpiece on the wall, the venues collection of antique boot making tools displayed proudly in a glass cabinet on the wall.
Thomas Olive opened in November 2013. It began as an old-world Parisian style jazz café. When Bar Manager and World-class bartender, Alan Mulvhill stepped in 12 months ago, he felt that it was cold and intimidating and didn’t at all work with his style.
Working with his sidekick Conor, Alan has transformed the bar into a place that is warm, friendly and approachable, differentiated by its commitment to old-fashioned good service and genuine relationships with customers.
Their philosophy is that bartending and cocktails should not be taken too seriously. Watching them chat to customers and bounce off each other, I realise they don’t take themselves too seriously either.
Childhood friends, the Irish lads grew up together in Cork just 20 minutes from the Jamison Distillery. Today at Thomas Olive, Alan makes the cocktails and Conor serves the tables, while together they add personality and vibrancy to the place.
I can recommend the Smoked eel croquet with saffron rouille and the Crackle & Pop. Even though I’m not a food blogger, I can tell exquisite treats when I try them.
Specialising in classic cocktails and whisky, the bar has a minimalistic menu with a few signature suggestions. Consistent with their concept of personalised service, the aim is to have customers speak to them so Conor and Alan can make suggestions and customise cocktails to their personal taste.
Alan’s personalised cocktail for me is an espresso martini with a twist to help wash down the snacks. Mixed with muddled maltesers, honey syrup, cognac, cold drip coffee liqueur, and cold drip coffee, it’s served in a vintage teacup and saucer with a garnish of 3 maltizers and mini rose buds on the side.
From the menu, the ASC (“after sex cigarette”) is their twist on the classic cocktail “Between the Sheets”. Mixed with Taliker 10 Whisky, a smoky and citrusy whisky, Ron Zacapa 23 Rum, Triple Sec & lemon sugar, this is the star of their signature menu.
“99% of all problems can be solved by money — and for the other 1% there’s alcohol.”
– Quentin R. Bufogle