Caretaker’s Cottage is a small bar. Let’s call it a pub. It was voted as one of the World’s Top 50 Bars by a panel of judges in October 2023, coming in at number 23 globally – just one of two Australian bars to make the prestigious award.
The secret to its success is the team’s unwavering clear direction to create a handsome, simple space, offering a carefully curated but compact choice of quality beer, wine, cocktails and snacks in an environment conducive to conviviality. Yep, it feels like an oldfashioned pub you’d find in great European cities like Glasgow, Bruges or Amsterdam where beer flows, vinyl is played, and healthy heart conversations are held.
The action takes place in a beautifully restored brick Gothic Revival building, built in 1914, behind a historic Melbourne church. Inside is just 64 square metres of space with a Tasmanian Oak bar and a selection of vinyl. There is a small lounge with burgundy leather banquettes, green marble-topped tables and a stunning dot painting by NT Indigenous artist Gloria Napangardi Gill hanging on the plain French wash walls. Apart from the Pitt & Giblin speakers and one wall covered in William Morris wallpaper, Caretaker’s Cottage is very much an unadorned shell. “We wanted to make a place with people at its centre,” says co-owner Matt Stirling. With Rob Libecans and Ryan Noreiks, Matt formed a partnership around the idea of opening a bar or a pub that gave people an authentic human experience based around drink, music and a little food. After searching for a suitable site around Melbourne they landed on the perfect spot in 2019. They spent months developing designs and concepts only to have their permit knocked back due to regulations. Then they came across the charming former home of the Wesley Church caretaker. It was small but it was perfect. Then COVID hit. When able to, they slowly worked on what was a shell of a building with no water, gas or electricity. “There are substantial historic overlays on the site so it took time,” adds Rob.
Caretaker’s Cottage opened its heavy wooden door in February 2021 to much acclaim, despite the simplicity of the offer. There are just a few beers on tap and Guinness, with a larger selection of craft beers sold by can or bottle. There is a compact, alwaysevolving wine list and an ever-changing choice of half a dozen or so cocktails. “Our menu is very simple,” adds Matt. They were not allowed exhaust fans which means they focused on top-quality charcuterie and an old British pub classic – Welsh rarebit.
Despite the size of the cottage, the number of staff is refreshingly high. “There are a number of hidden nooks and we have 50 square metres of licenced space outside, so we are constantly doing the rounds making sure everyone is having a good time,” says Rob. The barman makes cocktails, pours wine and beer and spins the discs while another behind the bar takes orders, and another two people work in the kitchen. “We would rather overstaff so the interactions between the staff and our customers are never rushed,” says Matt. “This is a business based on personto-person relations.” Rob adds with a little self-deprecating humour, “and as our financial controller said, ‘you can’t cut the cost of greatness’.”
As seen in Summer 23/24