Answered prayers

History tells us the Bishop of Ostia was the illegitimate son of Pope Joan, the woman who hid her gender during the 11th century to reign the church. These days, most consider this entire story a work of fiction. Fortunately, however, the newest bar in Melbourne’s north is very real.

Chef Matt Wilkinson and business partner Ben Foster raised a few eyebrows when they opened their cafe Pope Joan on an industrial stretch of Nicholson Street. Now, with that powering along, they’ve taken over the space behind the neighbouring roller door.

The Bishop of Ostia is a relaxed bar focussing on local drops and produce. They’ve done a great job transforming the industrial bones of the building, leaving some of the decaying bricks exposed and giving them a contemporary makeover with layers of mirrors and dark timber panelling.

You can sit up at the bar (a gorgeous cherry blossom mosaic behind you), on milk stools around small tables or on wide wooden benches in the window. The Bishop also cleverly shares Pope Joan’s courtyard space.

The generous drinks list consists of well-priced Victorian wines and local beers (including the Brunswick-brewed Thunder Road Full Steam Lager on tap) and ciders. There are even two Australian whiskies on offer. The cocktail menu is short but oh-so sweet, with the Brunswick mule, a combination of bourbon, organic ginger beer, lime, mint and sour cherries, worth crossing town for.

Bar snacks come from Joan’s kitchen. Start with the moreish pork scratchings, then move on to the chef’s snack of sashimi tuna, soy and ginger, the smoked garlic bagna caudal with crudités of heirloom vegetables, and the spice-crumbed Moreton Bay bugs.

Those living in the area are truly blessed.

The Bishop of Ostia
77–79 Nicholson Street, Brunswick East
(03) 9388 8858
Thursday to Sunday, 4pm–late (kitchen opens at 5.30pm)

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The vibe is like going back in time to the 70's and to another continent- to Hong Kong. The space is buzzing, moody, sexy with black and gold chairs, dark floors with red hues and low lighting. The music is pumping as couples and groups of friends share large jugs of happy hour cocktails from colourful teapots. The outside bar has sections of an old movie theatre with lights and overhead daisy chains of fake hanging peking ducks!

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