Many years ago now, I went to an event that was held in an alleyway off a side street in the suburb of Collingwood in Melbourne’s inner northeast. It was a magazine launch at a motorbike workshop, full of all the things you would expect: the smell of diesel, pieces of motorbikes strewn around, and something of a makeshift bar for the workshop’s members with beer cans as far as the eye could see. In the past year, however, the space has been transformed into a brand-new bar featuring natural wine, beer, and Latin food—a delightful mix if I ever heard one.
The building at 25 Easey Street is not your typical setup, housing a number of separate businesses that work symbiotically together: upstairs there’s the longstanding Backwoods Gallery, while downstairs encompasses Paradise Alley, Little Latin Lucy, Casati’s Deli, and a motorbike workshop. When the deli and workshop finish up for the day, Paradise Alley and Lucy’s are just starting to gear up for the night.
Paradise Alley features something of an all-star hospitality cast: It’s owned by Laura Twomey, formerly of City Wine Shop and French Saloon, while the restaurant is the brainchild of Renee Trudeau, former chef at Clever Polly’s, Huxtable, and Gertrude Street Enoteca. It’s a partnership that came about somewhat serendipitously; they met over dinner at a mutual friend’s house (fish tacos, cooked by Trudeau) when Twomey was in the beginning stages of opening the business. At that time Twomey was intending on letting customers order food to go, but after the delicious tacos and subsequent conversations between the two, it was decided that Trudeau would take the opportunity to build a small and efficient kitchen in the corner of the space.
The whole space itself is deceptively stunning. From the street, it looks like any other nondescript warehouse. But upon walking in you’re met with a beautiful Victorian Ash bar decked out with all sorts of delicious booze, vintage couches, and furniture, lovely natural light flowing in during the day, and delightfully moody lighting at night. The build was undertaken by Twomey’s friends: “It was put together from my drawings on scraps of paper. ‘I want it to look like this,’ I’d say, without having any idea how difficult it would be,” she says. “Luckily, I have incredibly talented and patient friends. The whole place was built by wonderful mates.”
Drinks on offer at Paradise Alley are diverse: For beer you can have Coopers on tap (an Australian middle-class pub staple) all the way to a Cucumber Kolsch from Grifter Brewing in NSW, while for wine you can slurp on bottles from far away (Cantina Giardino) or closer to home (new release Jauma). Food from Trudeau’s kitchen is an amalgamation of years of top-notch chef work and influences from across Latin America, gifted to her by her Colombian mother. Think Cubano rolls, BBQ pork tacos, chicken tostadas, arepas, and quesadillas—all using ingredients from high-quality folks such as Flinders Island and Calendar Cheese, alongside local farmers markets for seasonal and organic produce.
In terms of service and atmosphere, Twomey repeatedly emphasizes the importance of having a good staff (and keeping it). “You can have someone buying your spirits, making your wine list, choosing your beers, but you can’t always have people behind the bar that will ask you how your day was, know your name, and make you feel welcome as soon as you walk in,” she says. “I feel very lucky to be surrounded by the people that work here.”
For Twomey and Trudeau, so much of the intent of their cohabitating business relies on a simple premise: enjoyment. The range of food and drink on offer means that there’s something for nearly everybody’s budget and preferences, and talking to them it quickly became clear that it doesn’t matter what people choose to drink, just that they have a good time doing it.
Eileen P. Kenny is a Sprudge Media Network contributor based in Melbourne.