37-41 Little Bourke St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||Thu-Sat 5pm-1am|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Events, Late night, Romance-first date|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9639 4944|
If you want to get all Mars and Venus about it, Juliet is the feminine to her masculine sibling, the clubby laneway wine bar pioneer Punch Lane. And no, it's not the girl's name or the hot pink neon sign that does it. The actual gender stuff here happens on the drink and snack lists, where Juliet champions female wine, beer, spirit and cheese makers.
Anyone feeling threatened by the existence of a women-dominated drinks list (an 80/20 split with the wine on offer) should take a breath. If it's not pointed out to you and if you don't do a close reading of the menu's liner notes, you won't even notice. There are even some blokes cooking in the open kitchen and slinging drinks with flair on the floor so Juliet does its woman-forward thing with nary a hint of patriarchy-bashing to frighten the sensitive.
It's a good looking space, unsurprising given that designer Rabindra Naidoo (Pidapipo, Saint Urban et al) was on board. Low ceilinged, dark hued and dimly lit (aided by more neon underlighting at the bar), it's spacious with the natural sophistication common to well-proportioned basement spaces. Timber panelling and steel wine racks, rippled glass, a scattering of Danish modern furniture and handblown glass light fittings, including a cluster that forms a woozily beautiful chandelier, add effortless cool. It makes you feel more glamorous than you actually are.
The wine list, short and solid, has everything potentially available by the glass. Four reds and four whites are open at a time.
There's bright fleshy pinot noir from Yarra Valley winemaker Kate Goodman and a gorgeous Margaret River semillon-sauvignon blend from one of the country's best practitioners, Vanya Cullen. Old World listings include finely structured gruner veltliner that Austrian winemaker Ingrid Groiss makes from vines planted by her grandmother, and Tuscan sangiovese from Frescobaldi winemaker Eleonora Marconi, fruit-driven with an attractive backbeat of minerality.
Cocktails favour slight variations on the classics, like a Cucumber Gimlet that swaps out the gin for vodka and adds, pretty successfully, chartreuse and cucumber. Glassware and liquor quality are up to scratch but Juliet's cocktails are a part of the equation rather than its focal point.
A fully equipped kitchen behind the bar makes Juliet's snack menu seem a little light-on. Stuffed olives, well-respected cheese and charcuterie, a classic steak tartare make a meal if pushed. But the lack of anything heftier reflects Juliet's double life. It only opens as a bar three nights a week, the rest of the time hosting private dinners and functions.
That it's able to appear so fully realised as a bar for just a few days each week is impressive. It'd be great to see a few more days offered up to the general public, if not for the sisterhood, then just for fans of well-run bars.
Martini meter: Tanqueray gin, Noilly Pratt vermouth, olive garnish.
Large glass makes it look undersized but averts spillage. Good chill level. Competent, if a little diluted ($20) 3.5/5
Go-to Dish: Raclette from Heidi Farm in Tasmania that's melted then scraped at the table.