Melbourne, Victoria: Con Christopoulos

By Michael Harden
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Con Christopoulos reckons that Melbourne is best summed up by three things – dark wood, red wine and espresso. Looking at the Melbourne restaurant scene – particularly in the CBD where Con has helped set the tone and feel of countless cafés, bars and restaurants – his summary seems pretty accurate. But then again, as owner (with a series of partners) of six highly successful eating and drinking venues in the city, he is in a pretty unique position to observe (and even sway) how Melburnians eat and drink.

Con originally wanted to be a physiotherapist but fell into and in love with restaurants instead. He ended up owning a couple of places with his family before going overseas for the first time, but it was only after a year of seeing how things were done in South America and Europe that he opened a café that really made a difference to the way things were done in his home town.

Cafe Sergovia in Block Place was one of the first eating places in Melbourne to popularise the city’s laneways, offering wine by the glass, excellent music, a moody European vibe and well-cooked simple food. He had Sergovia for three years and then sold it and went to Europe for a year, “making notes and taking photos and sitting in good cafes for hours to see how they were doing things”.

Shortly after returning to Melbourne he and two partners opened two places at the same time – a wine and food serious bar called Syracuse and an menu-less espresso bar called Degraves – both in city laneways and both with Con’s now trademark look of using recycled and antique materials to make them appear as if they had been around forever. The laneways were chosen not only because they were the cheaper option at the time but also because of the “quirky, European feel” they had.

Con no longer owns Syracuse but has The European in Spring Street (popular with the politicians who work across the road in the Parliament building) with the very popular late-night venue the Melbourne Supper Club upstairs and the designer bottleshop and cafe City Wine Shop next door. He also has another café in Flinders Lane called Journal and a bustling little Italian bistro in the legal precinct called Benito’s and a share in Pelican, a vibey, architect-designed café and tapas bar in St Kilda.

Most of his places have a reputation for great winelists that are largely – or in the case of The European, exclusively – made up of European wines, great coffee and good service.

Con says that his inspiration came not only from Europe but also from Melbourne - the weather, the markets and the attitude of the Italian cafes in Lygon Street.

“People might knock Lygon Street for its lack of quality,” he says.  “But what it gave us was an attitude. My first cappuccino in Melbourne was in Lygon Street. We used to wag school and walk to Cafe L’Alba and spend the day playing money machines, eating mortadella rolls and drinking cappuccino. It was heaven.”

By creating such successful businesses, Con’s attitude is now a Melbourne attitude. Spend some time in any of his businesses and you can see that that is a good thing for the city.

© Michael Harden 2006

First printed in Food and Wine Lovers’ Guide to Melbourne and Surrounds (2006)

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  • Melbourne (VIC)

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