Underwood Wine Bar

Howdy, neighbour: Underwood is cosy and welcoming.
Howdy, neighbour: Underwood is cosy and welcoming. Photo: Paul Jeffers

181 Saint Georges Road Fitzroy North, Victoria 3068

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Opening hours Tue-Thu 5pm-11pm; Fri 5pm-1am; Sat 3pm-1am; Sun 3pm-11pm
Features Bar, Licensed
Prices Cheap (mains under $20)
Phone 03 9489 5764

They say many new businesses don't survive the first year so it's excellent that Underwood celebrates its first birthday this week. Before you ask, it isn't named after Kevin Spacey's duplicitous character Francis Underwood in House of Cards. It's named after the owner, Michael Underwood, who lives upstairs with his girlfriend MJ and runs a tight ship downstairs.

It used to be called Monkey Bar in a previous life, but the Englishman took over the lease last February and it's his first official venture after working in the wine trade for years.

The cosy room is all warm brick and slate with gorgeous leadlight windows and a lived-in vibe. A lone beer tap pours Thornbury's 3 Ravens, there's a thick stack of vinyl records on constant rotation, a shelf of well-thumbed books and a very well-played Scrabble board on the bar. Out the back you'll find a lush little courtyard overflowing with plants and tiny, handcrafted tables – it's like sitting in your mate's garden.

Try the signature gruyere toastie, with potato chips and a pickle.
Try the signature gruyere toastie, with potato chips and a pickle. Photo: Paul Jeffers

The sharp menu is focused on all-Australian wine and beer, and there are several varieties of vermouth. It's a list curated by someone with passion and knowledge to burn, and each winemaker is listed by name alongside the region. There's a healthy list of natural  wines and a lengthy choice of craft spirits.

While it's not a cocktail bar, there are a few spritzy mixed drinks on offer, including a traditional Italian Pirlo​ which is basically summer in a glass: blushing pink Contratto bitter and sparkling wine served with a dash of soda in a generous stemmed glass. Suck one up before the weather turns.

Ubiquitous negronis are barrel-aged in house and poured over an even more ubiquitous single giant ice block – a flourish that's become standard issue in this neck of the woods. The ice doesn't melt as quickly and doesn't water down your drink, which is great for purists, but a gobstopping challenge for ice chewers.

The 'Pirlo' spritz is summer in a glass.
The 'Pirlo' spritz is summer in a glass. Photo: Paul Jeffers

Food-wise, there's some unfussy drinking snacks making good use of local ingredients. Two luxe toasted sandwiches – a triple cheese press with creamed corn and a spread of Dijon, or a richer number with smoked ham, gruyere and pungent truffle paste – are both served with a handful of Kettle​ chips and a pickle. There's charcuterie, of course, from Obelix & Co up the road, as well as almonds, olives, and Middle Eastern hummus with crunchy crostini and plenty of paprika. You can go for gold and get a "taste of most things" for $18.

Underwood is an obvious labour of love and the definition of an unassuming, welcoming, reliable neighbourhood bar. Happy birthday, here's to many more.

Drink this
 The Pirlo, $14.
Eat this Ham and gruyere toastie, $13.
Know this Get a toastie with a glass of house wine for $15 on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Say this "Can I quit my job and open a bar like this?"