You'd be hard-pressed now to find a cinema in Melbourne where you can't get a drink. Most cinema bars fall into the "any port in a storm" category, their clunky decor and perfunctory drinks lists making no sense without tickets to the 800th instalment of Star Wars. But Thornbury Picture House proves it doesn't need to be that way.
It's important to keep in mind that Thornbury Picture House is a small (57-seat) independent cinema and thus free of the multiple layers of middle management meddling that turn most bars in cinema chains hideous. Secondly, owner Gus Berger scored a magnificent building on Thornbury's main drag, a former service station with Art Nouveau flourishes, and has converted it with respect and style. Then there's the short, sharp drinks list focussed on small local producers that makes coming here a viable option regardless of your intentions towards catching the latest screening.
The building housing TPH, built in 1912, was one of Melbourne's first petrol stations with drive-through service. That sheltered driveway is now one of the city's more unusual places to drink in the great outdoors. Original tiles, some still advertising the building's former incarnation (including the still-apt "Fill Here"), an old petrol bowser (now painted with a scene from Thelma & Louise), planter boxes, communal tables and great sightlines to the street and of incoming cinema-goers make this a seriously fun place to hang out over a few drinks.
Inside it's darker and more cinematic. The split-level space has banquette seating on the lower level and smart upholstered timber booths and couches up a gentle ramp near the cinema entrance. There's on-theme decor in the form of vintage projectors, film canisters and set lights but mercifully, it stops short of the obsessive.
The bar, all elegant timber curves designed to reflect the building's heritage, has a pegboard menu listing ticket prices and a short, sharp list of drinks and snacks.
This isn't the place to come for elaborate drinks. There are cocktails but only what's listed: a good Negroni, a decent Aperol Spritz and the house cocktail, Motor Spirit, a lively take on a Dark and Stormy that mixes Kraken spiced rum with Stone's Green Ginger Wine and Sichuan bitters. Occasionally there will be film-themed cocktails. At an upcoming screening of The Big Lebowski, White Russians will feature.
Beers keep it local with Hawkers, Two Birds, Stomping Ground and Thornbury's own 3 Ravens all making the cut while the short wine selection heads further afield – pinot noir from the Adelaide Hills, prosecco from the King Valley – hitting a good balance of price and quality.
Snacks include choc tops from Preston's Ice Cream Embassy and good Italian stuff from Umberto Espresso Bar, a few doors away. Calamari fritti, meatballs and polenta chips all arrive in good order in sturdy cardboard containers.
This is not to say you shouldn't see a movie here. You should. With a six-metre screen, quality sound system and a roster than mixes new releases with cult, classic and the work of local filmmakers, Thornbury Picture House is an excellent addition to Melbourne's movie mix. But its quirky and thoughtful contribution to the bar scene is equally pleasing.
Address 802 High Street, Thornbury, 03 9995 0040, thornburypicturehouse.com.au
Cards MC V eftpos
Open Tue-Thu 5pm-11pm, Fri 10am-11pm, Sat-Sun 1pm-11pm
Martini meter n/a
What do you want? It's a cinema – have a Negroni (with Four Pillars Spiced gin, $16) instead.
Go-to bar snack /strong>Pork and veal polpettini with napoli sauce supplied by neighbouring Umberto Espresso Bar.