Mark Whitaker and Kirstie Petrie know what it takes to make a hospitality venture work. Having both worked in fast-paced venues, the duo has a keen sense of what makes a successful venue tick, like which elements are essential and which ones aren’t. Their new pop-up bar, After Dark Wine, is an exercise in purposefully stripped-back service. In a time where hospitality profit margins are thinner than they have ever been thanks to lockdowns and capacity restrictions, entrepreneurial operators looking to strike out on their own are encountering more and more barriers to entry. Mark and Kirstie’s pioneering pop-up pivot might prove to be a viable option for small-scale operators. The concept is based around activating small existing spaces (think cafes and coffee spots that typically shut down in the afternoon) and temporarily converting them into intimate and buzzy nighttime haunts. After Dark Wine has done that at Newstead’s Masters St Coffee, a cosy specialty coffee slinger often frequented by folks seeking an early morning pick-me-up. Now, they can stop by in the evening for a glass of Jumping Juice riesling and pork-and-pistachio terrine. Here, Mark and Kirstie are responsible for ordering and curating stock, greeting guests, pouring drinks, and waiting tables – a operational scheme that allows the two to establish a more personal connection to their clientele and show off their tastes in food and drink, while also keeping overheads low.
As the sun dips below the horizon, Mark and Kirstie swap mugs for stemmed wine glasses and subtly transform the 15-seater space into an intimate bar. For sommelier Mark (who might be familiar to some from his stints at Gauge and Carl’s), curating After Dark’s wine list provides an interesting challenge. While previously free to craft deep lists of worldly vino, due to storage restrictions Mark is forced to work within a slimmer set of parameters. After Dark’s offering sits between 15 and 18 wines that deftly balances price point and variety, with drops from different suppliers frequently rotating through to ensure there’s something new to enjoy each visit. The range showcase a diverse array of expressions – think boundary-pushing new-wave wines, traditional old-world drops and weekly magnum specials – from both Australian and international producers, though Mark’s personal favourite, Beaujolais, will always be represented. Kirstie handles After Dark’s ale and cocktail offering, liaising with craft-beer suppliers like Range Brewing to stock a short range of brews (a lager, pale ale and off-beat option) and Australian spirit makers for a tight list of pre-batched, high-alcohol stir-down cocktails and spritzes. As there is no kitchen at Masters St Coffee, the pop-up’s snack selection encompasses premium pre-packaged snacks sourced from local artisan suppliers – we’re talking cheeses from The Cheeseboard in Albion, wild venison and black truffle and squid-ink salami from Saison Salumi, chicken, leek and truffle terrines, Olasagasti Cantabrian anchovies, Mount Zero olives, and chutneys. After Dark is expected to stick around at Masters St Coffee until, but is expected to stay longer. Plans are in the works to establish more pop-up locations in the future, with a case-by-case potential to expand in operational scope depending on amenities available.
After Dark Wine is open from 4:00 pm until late, Wednesday to Saturday.