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Bar Americano goes on Sabbatico

Bar Americano goes on Sabbatico

Matt Bax and Matt Packham in action. All pictures by Alexander Nimmo

BAR REVIEW Sabbatico (Bar Americano) Where: 20 Presgrave Place, Melbourne CBD When: Until end of the year One of Melbourne’s best-loved “hidden” bars has had a playful revamp.

Nestled in Presgrave Place off Little Collins Street, the tiny Bar Americano has been a staple of Melbourne nightlife for some time.

Starting from April 14 and running to the end of the year, owner Matt Bax and bartender Matty Packham have decided to change things up with their new project Sabbatico. 

As Packham puts it, Sabbatico is “something more modern and playful than Americano”. 

It’s exciting for returning patrons to see the how the project has taken over bar. With a new playlist of music playing quietly in the background, the once familiar space has morphed into something fresh and intriguing.

The walls are covered in hot pink “for lease” signs that have been spray-painted with various designs by Bax.

Bar Americano goes on Sabbatico

The Pharmacy cocktail, as delivered.

The small space creates an intimate experience for patrons, sitting a maximum of eight at a time the focus is on the bartenders as they create and work. 

Sabbatico is offering bar-goers either a three or five-course tasting menu priced at $85 and $165 respectively. These tasting menus are delivered in an hour-long timeslot for the three courses and an hour and a half for the five courses.

There will be a new menu each month, and the first is seen by the bartenders as a bit of a loveless goodbye to Covid.

Packham says it is “a hard reset and a palate-cleanser for regulars, while still being approachable enough to gain new ones.” 

Packham says they’ll become more daring in the coming months. “The menus in the future are going to become more experimental and a tad less friendly.”

Highlights of the current menu includes Packham’s “reverse affogato” which incorporates hot ice cream foam and cold espresso using Proud Mary coffee beans mixed with spiced bourbon amaro and rye. It is reminiscent of Americano while still innovative enough to excite returning patrons.

Bar Americano goes on Sabbatico

Cauldrons bubbling at Sabbatico.

Another highlight is the “pharmacy”, a returning cocktail from Bax’s former bar Der Raum, a medically inspired cocktail which is a hands-on experience for the drinker. A combination of roasted pepper gin in a medicine bottle, Italian bitters in a syringe, and a sherbet citrus pill, all mixed by the patrons. This bitter but flavoursome drink is a fun and textured beverage. 

At this time all drinks are mixed in front of the patrons as they sit by the bar and delivered by both bartenders with a short introduction of each drink. The menu order is kept secret, placing patrons completely in the hands of these expert mixologists. 

The intimate environment allows conversation to flow easily, which ebbs and flows as you marvel in the craftsmanship of the bartending duo. With each drink delivered there is a buzz in the room as the hands-on elements encourage a bit of playfulness from the patrons. The relaxed nature of the sitting allows you to enjoy all that is presented before you at its fullest.

Packham says he and Bax have a method to their alcoholic madness.

“We have a bit of a system of: redux, play, archival.” Redux takes an old classic and updates it to suit the current Sabbatico menu. Play looks to experiment and create something completely new in their line of cocktails. Archival seeks to bring the return of cocktails concocted by Bax from his previous ventures. 

All the cocktails are balanced against each other and overall, each menu aims to tell a story.

Sabattico will finish at the end of this year and Bar Americano will return to business as usual.

Join this sabbatical, even for just one evening, while you have the chance.

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