Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Fitting out the"The Grape Escape"

We opened the Grape Escape Wine Bar in March 1970 which was a milestone at this stage of my  development .We were both 29 with little experience in business but a fair bit on the other side of bars. I had worked in restaurants in the Bahamas and the States and Terry had some retail experience as a trainee with Woolworth's, Warwick who was a fair bit younger than us was working in his fathers business.

We leased a double fronted building on the corner of   of 139-141 Blues Point Road and King Edward Street, McMahons Point. Deciding to do most of the internal fit out ourselves with architectural drawings, for Council and Licensing approval, by architect -- Warren Firkin.

This building (pictured) was built in the 1890's and was the former, London Store - Family Grocers  and also held a liquor license and sold liquor by the bottle or glass. Michael McMahon sold the land and building for six hundred pounds in July 1890. Later  it was leased to McWilliams, exclusively selling McWilliams Wines and continued operating as a wine bar till the mid forties when it was turned into offices and residence.We bought the property in 1972 for $40,000.00.

When we took possession the veranda was not there. There was an awning on the corner and over the entrance. Pity, it looks so good with the veranda.The entrance is not on the corner, it is to the right between the windows.

The interior consisted of  two levels, the ground floor  consisted of approximately 400 sm and being double fronted  the staircase, entry hall were centred leading  into a central area and to stairs down to a backyard. There was a room off to the right, through to two smaller rooms, on the left was  one large room, that ran the length of the building. Upstairs was an L shaped area of three good size rooms, with a bathroom and landing.

The layout downstairs determined how we operated as a wine bar. The largest room suited being  turned into the bar area (as before it was offices with partitioning) and  the bar was purpose built by  our joiners of solid Tasmanian Oak. Underneath was a cellar which worked well with the bar above and we had a trapdoor installed into the floor and step ladder into the cellar. There was a large plate glass window facing Blues Point Road and was out of kilter with the rest of the windows which were all architecturally uniform. Unable to afford to replace them with uniform size windows, so heavy floor to ceiling red velvet drapes did the job instead.

Bar equipment was basic a five door bench fridge,  120 lb ice machine, glass washer and temprites for cider and red and white wine served by the glass from nine gallon kegs in the cellar. An amplifier, speakers and sound system were  installed and two second hand,wall mounted air conditioners. 

The bar room was impressive due to room size and height (15m in length x 6m wide) and ceiling height( 3m high) and the size of the bar constructed was a stretched U shape, with four wooden columns at the angles, helped break up the room visually, enabling  about twenty people  seated around  the three sides, with room for  stools and high tables at one end and for people standing.This room would sometimes hold over a hundred plus people shoulder to shoulder, glass in hand drinking, all shouting to be heard over background music of the seventies being pumped out.

Across from the bar room was a vestibule type room where we laid  quarry tiles and bought three wooden kegs which became tables and gave a rustic look.This area led to two smaller rooms, one becoming the kitchen. The equipment in the kitchen was even more basic than the bar - a domestic four burner electric stove, an electric griddle, a window that opened was the exhaust fan, a stainless steel sink the dishwasher some pots pans and crockery from our parents outfitted the Kitchen. A black board with soup and oysters, steak and chops and cheese cake - the Menu.

The front room on the right as you entered was carpeted as was the hallway, bar and smaller room off the kitchen. the furniture in the rooms were  timber Captain Chairs with timber tables. Timber stools around the bar, the walls we painted white with little brass wall brackets for lights. The front room was more intimate with a fireplace that we used in winter.

The men's toilet had a stainless steel urinal and a WC, with the women's we went overboard and gave them  a red flocked wallpaper a WC and two hand basins with mirrors.

The name " The Grape Escape" was by David Broad  a mate who then worked for McCann Ericson as a copywriter and later started his own music store called "Sound Advice".


  1. Ah, the Grape Escape! I lived on the opposite corner in 1985 - see . And Warwick is still around - see

  2. my brother worked there in the early 80's . when did the biz' close ?

  3. my brother worked there in the early 80's . when did the biz' close ?

  4. @numbat...who was your brother? My mum worked there from 1981 to 1986