Barton Fink is the intimate Melbourne bar that pays tribute to an iconic ’90s film

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Barton Fink is the intimate Melbourne bar that pays tribute to an iconic ’90s film


For three years, Barton Fink has been quietly building a loyal following around Thornbury, with a combination of cocktails, craft beers and live music served up in a relaxed and casual environment.

“We all have that Barton Fink feeling,” declares a bright blue neon inscription dominating the wall behind the bar. But what is the Barton Fink feeling, exactly?

“People are always asking us,” says manager Matt Hill. “It’s a talking point. You can interpret it however you want to interpret it.”

The venue takes its name from the 1991 Coen brothers film following Barton Fink, a playwright hired to produce screenplays during the Golden Age of Hollywood. The studio, one overbearing executive declares, wants Fink to give their films “that Barton Fink feeling”.

The Thornbury venue’s decor incorporates touches of low-key nostalgia, from the vintage Titan movie projector on display behind the bar to the velvet divan and the quirky gold-upholstered swivel chairs crowded around a wall-mounted fireplace. Here and there are nods to the venue’s cinematic namesake, from a larger-than-life mural of Mr. Fink’s dismayed face to an autographed photo of actor John Turturro, who portrayed Fink in the film, hanging over the bar.

In a city glutted with faux-quirky and faux-cozy bars and cafes, Hill has spent the last two years hard at work making Barton Fink a place where people can feel at home – where service is authentically personal. Founder Joanna Gerantidis thinks of Barton Fink as the “Cheers of Thornbury”, says Hill.

“It’s almost like an old-school pub vibe in the sense that, when you walk in, everyone knows your name,” says Hill. “We see a lot of the same faces coming through after work, having a few drinks to take the edge off the day.”

On weekends, the bar’s nonchalant atmosphere livens up, with DJs playing until 1am on Saturdays. Sundays however, as Hill explains, are quickly becoming the “it’ day for Barton Fink, with three-hour jazz, soul and rock jam sessions. Meanwhile, the bar has extended their license to 3am for a New Year’s Eve party which will feature the return of DJ Zorbs, a favourite among Barton Fink veterans.

“For us, it’s quite a sentimental thing, because [Zorbs] was here from the start with us,” says Hill. “A lot of our regulars that have been with us from when we opened know that he was synonymous with us on a Saturday night.”

Among Hill’s best evenings at the bar was the night of the 2017 AFL Grand Final, when the Richmond Tigers defeated the Adelaide Crows by 48 points.

“We’re not a sports bar, but it was an iconic sort of moment for everyone,” recalls Hill. “Our DJ was in the middle of a song, and he mixed in the Richmond Tigers theme song. The place just erupted. It was absolutely mental. Behind the bar, we’re flat out making drinks, and we had to take a step back and think, ‘Wow, this place is going off’.”

The espresso martini, Toblerone, strawberries and cream – comprised of vodka, cranberry and butterscotch and peach liqueurs, garnished with strawberries – and other sweet cocktails are among the venue’s most popular. But the bar’s signature cocktail is of course, The Fink. Comprising Midori, vodka, lemon juice and lemonade, a layer of Angostura bitters and a lime wheel garnish, it tastes like a fruitier version of a lemon, lime and bitters. During big events such as 2018’s New Year’s Eve party, The Fink is often offered on special as cocktail of the night.

Barton Fink is a bar first and foremost, but some of their food offerings have gained popularity too. The chicken parmigiana has had its recipe refined over months according to customer feedback – switching from cheddar to mozzarella cheese and adding a layer of ham – becoming one of Barton Fink’s most popular food dishes.

“We’ve got a great core group of locals that come through, and it’s a very friendly vibe,” says Hill. “We know their names. We know what they like to drink. We know what they do for a living. We can tell when they walk through if they’ve had a great day or a bad day. It’s definitely something that stands us aside from a lot of places around here.”