Besides Dame Edna, when Moonee Ponds is mentioned the mind often turns to gambling. The suburb’s sprawling racing track has been synonymous with the area since the 19th century, back when the suburb was a strip of farmland on Melbourne’s edge.
While it would be easy to draw a link between Melbourne’s racing industry and its underbelly, Moonee Ponds reputation is instead, well, rather reputable. The area has long been a small pocket of suburbia close to the CBD, filled with quarter acre blocks that have slowly given way to apartment buildings.
But the gamblers can still find a home in the suburb and Peter Cornwell and Gillian McKenzie could be counted among them as they opened Masterson’s Bar midway through 2018. Certainly, a bar named after Sky Masterson, the impossibly suave high stakes gambler from the musical Guys and Dolls, should make it clear enough Peter and Gillian are willing to take a chance.
Arguably a new local serving craft beer surrounded by residents may seem like a straightforward idea – a nailed on surety in the current climate – yet the path they chose is a little windy. For one, they decided their bar should focus on beers barely found elsewhere in Australia: those from the small breweries in Hong Kong they’d grown to love while living abroad.
Back in 2008, Peter and Gillian left Melbourne for Singapore to work as a banker and a lawyer respectively, careers that later took them to Hong Kong in 2012. For two people who had an interest in craft beer, it was quite the time to find themselves there. Like Australia, the local brewery scene was expanding rapidly with the likes of Young Master opening in 2013 and Kowloon Bay following in 2015.
Like many who start spending their time enjoying craft beer and hanging out in local breweries, over time they got to know the faces behind the beer. Then, in 2017, keen for a change in both scenery and lifestyle, the couple returned to Melbourne, loaded with knowledge and kegs of beer from Hong Kong, the latter intended not only for the new bar, but also for the couple’s proposed importing business.
Given their background, it comes as little surprise to find seven of the bar’s eight taps pouring beers Peter and Gillian bring into the country, including those from Young Masters, Kowloon Bay and Black Kite. Four of them are poured through old bike frames, which, on closer inspection, look slightly bent out of shape; they are, the result of being on the losing end of collisions with Hong Kong taxis.
The final tap is for local beer, as too are the bar’s fridges, which are kept filled with offerings from breweries far closer at hand: the likes of Two Birds and Hop Nation. Aside from beer, Masterson’s tries to keep things as independent as possible, not just for the wines, but also the worlds of spirits and soft drinks.
They can be enjoyed in a small front bar best described as “loungeroom-like”, right down to encouraging drinkers to order food in or bring their own from home. The front room’s been filled with leather couches and has walls lined with artwork they’ve picked up over the years, from Australian graffiti art to Maoist propaganda.
There is one exception to the rule, however: a patch of wall opposite the front door reserved for a mirror. Following traditional feng shui practices, it’s there to keep even the largest ghosts out. Presumably, Peter and Gillian will be hoping it helps keep drinkers in.