Melbourne’s Central Business District offers a vast number of places in which to consume delicious things. There’s a niche for every specialty you can possibly imagine: Want a place that only does ramen? You got it. Have a proclivity for a very specific type of Japanese cheesecake? No worries. Want to choose from 60 different types of Chablis? Yep, even that need can now be met. In this increasingly specialized world, however, it’s somehow gotten harder to find places that tick multiple boxes–or tick them all well.
Enter Sun Moth Canteen & Bar. Opened in early 2015, this alleyway cafe/wine bar/lunch and dinner spot/beer hangout has thoroughly settled into its place in the competitive Melbourne hospitality landscape. The establishment’s nonalcoholic offerings—in my view, precursors and accompaniments to alcohol—are solid, with the food menu evolving into a neat, mostly vegetarian and vegan selection with small plates that cater to the nighttime crowd. Add this to a pretty spectacular range of beers, spirits, and natural wines—plus a lovely coffee program—and it’s hard to imagine what else anyone could want from a bar/cafe (puppies?).
Chatting with owner Luke Mutton, it’s clear that finding a balance between day and night trade has been a constant work in progress over the past several years. “It’s as if we’ve just recently opened to be honest,” he says. “Sun Moth has ebbed and flowed in a few directions, but I feel like it’s really come together in the past few months.”
According to Mutton, some of the biggest supporters of what Sun Moth has tried to achieve have been the coffee people of Melbourne—or as he describes them, the “enthusiastic, flavor-chasing, open-minded peeps.” This has enabled the venue to fully embrace some weird and wonderful wines, alongside the less confronting (but still absolutely complex, amazing, and beautiful) wines that many people wouldn’t even know or realize are made with minimal intervention.
The wine selection at Sun Moth is diverse and delicious, including offerings from the New Australia—Boomtown, Momento Mori, Sam Vinciullo, Bobar, Patrick Sullivan, Ochota Barrels, Amassa—and from top natural winemakers in Europe like Le Coste, Radikon, Cantina Giardino, Jacques Fevrier, and many more. The beer menu is no slump either, with wildly delicious beers available from folks such as Two Metre Tall (Tasmania), Boatrocker (Victoria), Rodenbach (Belgium), To Øl (Copenhagen), Mountain Goat, La Sirene, and Stomping Ground (Melbourne) plus many others.
Sun Moth’s love of all things fermented is so deep-seated that it even led the team to go one step further last year, making their own wine (with the assistance and guidance from winemakers Bobar and Dirty Black Denim). The result, aptly named Golden Sun Moth: Chardonnay Grape Juice That Gets You Drunk, was a semi-successful venture into the world of wrangling wild bacteria and yeasts. I say semi-successful only because of a rogue brettanomyces infection and some sneaky volatile acidity, but apparently there were (and still are) some shining moments bottle to bottle.
One of the biggest wins for Sun Moth in the past year or so has been the attainment of a liquor license so that many of the delicious things can now be purchased to take home. The push for a takeout license was largely responding to the lack of places in Melbourne’s Central Business District selling the types of beers and wine that Mutton and his staff gravitate to.
It is rare to find a place where you can pop in any time between morning and night and have your cravings met, whether you need caffeine, food, a warm drink, or a boozy evening out. It’s a delicate balance, but one that Sun Moth has figured out how to deliver while somehow making it all look easy.
Eileen P. Kenny is a Sprudge Media Network contributor based in Melbourne. Read more Eileen P. Kenny on Sprudge Wine.