All photography by Peter Bennetts.
Curtin House is located in Swanston Street in the heart of Melbourne. Built in 1922 and designed in the art nouveau style, it began life as the Tattersalls Building, but was renamed in honour of the then serving Prime Minister, John Curtin. In its heyday, it was one of the city’s architectural highlights, offering modern amenities to a range of tenants, among them the communist party.
Over time, however, the building fell into disrepair until, in 2001, it was bought by Tim Peach and Eric Firth with a vision to restore the grand dame to a new and modern glory. Today, there is an eclectic mix of tenants that include Cookie, Toff in Town, Metropolis bookshop, a kung fu academy, various fashion and clothing shops, the Rooftop Bar and Cinema and a residence for one of the principal owners.
The sixth floor is home to the newest tenant on this vertical block, Mesa Verde. Entry is by a small antique lift or, alternatively, you can give your legs a workout and climb the stairs. From the landing, turn the corner and Mesa Verde greets you like an oasis in a midwest desert.
Mesa Verde. The name evokes a time of cowboys, campfires, canyons and the wild, wild west. It is the name of an ancient cliff-dwelling village in a national park in south-west Colorado, but also the bank featured in the classic Sergio Leone spaghetti western movie, A Fistful of Dynamite (or, as it was originally known, Duck, You Sucker!). The design brief was inspired by the movie and Grant Amon from Grant Amon Architects has interpreted the intention perfectly.
The entrance is small and wood is the hero. Wooden floors (American oak from Eco Timber) and wainscoting (Tasmanian blackwood panels) on walls set the scene. Straight ahead is the restaurant area with tables and chairs (bentwood, Thonet) with bright orange banquet seating (blackwoodclad frames with Sacco leather, Gordon Mather) along the far wall. Above the banquet is the movie wall, with projections of classic westerns on a continuous loop adding to the atmosphere. Details are integral in this establishment, so large rimmed plates from Spain and individually fashioned rustic flatware are laid in preparation for dining patrons. Lighting is key (Studio Italia and ECC), so the western mood has been emphasised by the more than 80 original paraffin lamps placed on shelves around the perimeter of the interior.
Behind the restaurant area is the kitchen and bathrooms and these have been fully refurbished, a continuum of the greater design. Grey marble wall tiles and Mexican, red-brown Peraway onyx vanity tops feature for the ladies, while Reece mixers and Caroma basin and stainless steel bathroom appliances meet the needs of the gents. Marmoleum vinyl floor (Dark Biste, Forbo) has been laid throughout, including in the disabled convenience, where Caroma appliances have again been used for the basin, WC and taps.
To the right of the entrance is the bar and beyond this casual seating, lounge and private dining room. The eye-catcher, however, is the big, beautiful, glowing bar. Aged mirror has been used at the back of the bar to reflect glass shelves that hold the stellar collection of tequilas (one of the best in Australia) and spirits. The bar bench is recycled Messmate and, underneath, backlit green onyx panels have been inserted into the frontage, glowing yellow and green with sinewy brown veins. It is an innovative use of stone and effective use of lighting and is the dominant feature in the room.
In the lounge area, crimson velvet (SvenskaKJ) curtains frame windows and add a certain gravitas to the design. A velvet curtain also delineates the general lounge from the private dining area. With the addition of overhead fans (Haiku, Big Ass Fans) for effect and to promote crossventilation in summer and winter, the scene is that of an upmarket saloon, but in a very 2014 style. Upholstered lounge chairs (Exhibit) and occasional tables (Thonet) arranged in groups allow patrons to sit and relax in style while listening to the DJ, who has a dedicated corner booth.
Mesa Verde also means green table in Spanish and this restaurant takes ‘green’ seriously. The kitchen, under the guidance of chef, Kathy Reed, has established a small kitchen garden within the confines of the outside area of the sixth floor stairway. The garden is a source of pride to Reed, but is also a practical consideration supplying the kitchen and bar with difficult to source Mexican herbs and speciality chilies and vegetables. Below the garden, in an undercover walkway, is the worm farm (created by Richard Thomas from Wormlovers) that produces quality fertiliser to feed the plants. While rainwater is collected in tanks, there are also plans to recycle grey water to create a fully contained green environment. Mesa Verde has developed a self-sufficient ecosystem high in the sky that takes sustainability to another level.
So what’s in a name? Quite a lot it seems when you visit Mesa Verde. Delicious Mexican-inspired food and drinks using produce grown from the sustainable kitchen garden, coupled with an interior that conjures up the excitement of the American wild west. All the ingredients are there, and Mesa Verde is indeed a destination worth finding.