After a year of being number-obsessed we finally got the two we wanted last week – a big fat zero and the step to stage three, ending 12 weeks of lockdown. Melbourne predictably didn't mess around.
A minute to midnight, Con Christopoulos swung open the doors and decks of late-night bar Siglo with schnitzel sangas and so many bottles of champagne that some attendees are probably not going out again for a while.
It was a good, loud and proud Melbourne moment that shook the city from its slumber and proved just how ready we are to be out and how keen hospitality operators are to get going.
For some operators, like Emilio Scalzo and Zoe Rubino of Fitzroy's Poodle Bar and Bistro, that's particularly true. This is business number one for the couple and they didn't pull any punches.
They had been planning and building the Gertrude Street playhouse (replete with giant courtyard, hidden cellar and bars of dark woods and green marble –upstairs and down) for two years and should have opened in March.
Instead, they had to launch it as Rocco's, a pandemic-friendly concept slinging loveable quasi-trashy Italian meatball subs and fried baloney sambos.
Not that this was a bad thing. Rocco's was so popular that it's getting its own spin-off show. But Poodle, with its beautiful bones, glittering glassware and chef Josh Fry's polished take on bistro classics is the story they've been waiting to tell.
It has been 112 days since I ate at Poodle, when it opened for an explosive flash in June. Despite the whole team knowing they were facing closure again, they put on a hell of a show.
With summer coming and the city in an eating fever, it's exactly the kind of place you will want to knock the cobwebs off your dining muscles when they reopen November 4.
It's the kind of space you've missed, fastidiously crafted to enhance good times. Lights are strategically placed so you look better. Tables are linen-dressed so you feel posher and glassware is delicate and pretty enough that drinking a wet poodle cocktail (a martini with a pickled onion) is an event and not a boredom-induced crutch after a Zoom meeting.
Rubino, a former acolyte of Andrew McConnell's is also well versed in the things you forgot you were missing – like sparkling water that's magically refilled and someone telling you exactly why it is that the bread here is so good.
The reason is because Fry has also served in the McConnell stable and has had the lessons of "letting produce do the talking but keeping it fun" drilled into him.
Back in June, dinner started with briny Coffin Bay oysters lit up by "crazy water" aqua pazza, in this case a spicy tomatoey liquor cooked down with dashi; conical vol au vents with a heart of spanner crab and Yarra Valley salmon roe and thick slices of San Jose salami with a clutch of pickled veg.
His sourdough was dark, malty and cut into thick slabs with cheesy cultured butter. Everything from dry-aged steak and hand-cut fries to neatly trimmed prawns for a classic cocktail trod the kitchy-chic line and was a clear testament to doing things the old-school way.
Poodle reopens this Wednesday, and while indoor dining is extremely limited, Scalzo and Rubinho have an ace in the hole. That internal courtyard is an expansive, easily heated aquamarine party plot that easily fits 50.
Cue Fry's third reinvention of the menu to cater to a summer of spritz and seafood in the great indoor outdoors.
Patio at Poodle is the team's way of introducing themselves to the world for a third time lucky. The instant hits from June will return: vol au vents with whipped cod roe and spanner crab or asparagus and fromage, and the Poodle club with a crunch layer of chicken skin added to the classic.
But to the table comes the fruit of a lot of downtime labour. Oysters kilpatrick will be warmed on the hibachi and topped with house-made Worcestershire sauce and bacon floss.
A fermented chilli mayonnaise is the devilling agent in chilled salad of Moreton Bay bug tails, crunched up with celery and spring onions for loading onto brioche rolls.
Add to this a towering seafood platter with crab legs akimbo and kingfish rolled in a jacket of leek ash. Throw in a beef tartare of sustainable retired dairy cow and hand-cut fries and the promise of those meatball subs when late nights in the bar resume. Until then, satisfy yourself with three-sip wet poodles and a fizzing fountain of spritz.
It's been a big year. Everyone needs a break, and every venue deserves a shot. Fingers crossed, third time's a charm for this crew and Poodle finally gets its dog day afternoon.
Patio at Poodle Bar and Bistro opens November 4
Address 81-83 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 03 9086 8971, poodlefitzroy.com.au
Open Wed-Thu 4pm-midnight; Fri, Sat 11am-midnight, Sun 11am-6pm
Drinks Mostly Italian wine list with a scattering of local Italian varietals and a cellar list for something special.
Pro tip Fun day Sundays with DJs will be held monthly and upstairs can host parties of 10.
Cost Private functions $95 set menu, plus drinks
Score Scoring is paused while the industry gets back onto its feet