Hard as it is to believe, there was a time in Melbourne when wine was viewed as the drink of choice for alcoholics, and, even worse, communists!! The stereotype was men drinking beer, while women were confined to the ladies’ lounge sipping a shandy. Jimmy Watson bucked that trend. He opened his bar and bistro in Lygon Street in 1935 and served good quality wines. Jimmy Watson’s bar became very popular with academics from the University of Melbourne, as well as medical staff working at nearby hospitals. It was Mum who first mentioned Jimmy Watson’s to me, and this is what she recalled. She was a university student in the mid 1960’s.
“We would sometimes go to Jimmy Watson’s in the late afternoon during the colder months. If we were going there, we didn’t return to uni for any other classes that day! We would have a few glasses of wine. We couldn’t afford to eat there. If we were going to eat out, we would eat out at ‘Genevieve’s’ [a café then around the corner in Faraday Street]. Jimmy Watson’s was popular with our lecturers.”
Jimmy Watson’s wine bar and bistro is still operating at the same location at 333 Lygon Street and is over 75 years old. It is a Melbourne institution. After Jimmy Watson’s death, his customers set up a wine industry award in his memory. Apparently Jimmy Watson was adept at choosing young red wines that would mature fabulously! The annual award in his name is for young reds.
Jimmy Watson’s family continue to operate the bar, with his son initially taking over, and now his grandsons operating the venue. It was renovated a few years ago, and has a relaxed sophisticated feel. The venue stands out on Lygon Street as it is a whitewashed brick building. There are some tables out on the pavement. It is fun to sit there with a glass of wine and people watch. Inside, there is a wine bar and an adjacent restaurant area. Out back, there is a secluded courtyard. I find Jimmy Watson’s to be a perfect place for chatting with friends over a meal while sharing a bottle of wine. Like Mum, I quite enjoy popping by on a late Wintery afternoon to have a few warm ones! And yes, Jimmy Watson’s is still popular with academic staff. In fact, I am sure that I recognise some of my old English Literature and History lecturers there! It is the type of place that attracts loyal patrons.
Jimmy Watson’s is renowned for its superb wine list. However, it is also well patronised by regulars for its excellent food. I eagerly await to see their specials board, as I always order from it. I particularly enjoy seeing what surprises are in store with their seafood selection. (Pizza is on offer for around $18 but is not popular with regulars.) I recently tucked into a spicy mussel broth. I was meant to share it with Hubby as an entrée, but, well, let’s just say he only got a few spoonfuls! The other night I relished the grilled swordfish. It was perfectly cooked – moist on the inside, with a crispy skin. Hubby loves the porterhouse steak in pepper sauce. Main meals are usually between $22 and $29. We like to order the side dish of spinach with chilli and cloves of garlic ($8). We find dinner at Jimmy Watson’s costs between $60 and $80 for us, depending on whether we also share an entrée or have a drink.
Jimmy Watson’s is open daily for lunch and dinner except on Sundays. I usually ring to make a booking. The service is excellent in the wine bar, but a bit less predictable in the restaurant. Jimmy Watson’s also operates a retail outlet in Balwyn, selling premium wines.