For Willow Coffee + Pantry owners Megan Fellowes and Sheree Knight, the recent addition of an evening-appropriate offering is the realisation of a long-harboured dream. It’s also the latest in a series of perceptive pirouettes the duo has executed since the advent of COVID-19, which began with the shake-up of its cafe dining format and the implementation of a pantry and providore section last year. Seeing as they run an entity devoted to catering to community needs, Megan and Sheree are all too familiar with Brighton’s want for more accessible after-hours venues. Locals want a place they can walk to, bring the dog to – they desire something intimate and inviting that didn’t feel like a cafe disguised as a bar. They seek a spot for spontaneous drink diversions and impromptu catch-ups, alike. When the neighbouring tenancy on North Road became available, the team saw an avenue to upgrade Willow into just the kind of venue folks were clamouring for. A spate of building works have been enacted to bring the next-door space into the Willow fold, with interior design firm Douglas Carroll Designs helping to create aesthetic continuity between original and added sections, while choice decorative twists help delineate between day and night identities. Megan and Sheree describe Willow Coffee + Pantry and Willow Neighbourhood Bar as siblings that share a bedroom. Willow’s established light and breezy style, consisting of natural textures and blue tones, has applied to the new room – doubling the venue’s seating capacity when combined with the footpath tables and scattering of seats near the coffee-counter-cum-bar. At night the wall lights are dimmed and sheer curtains are pulled, helping transform the extension into an intimate nightspot once the sun sets (festoon lights above the alfresco tables also help establish a vibe outside).
The refurbishment works have also allowed for more prep and service space, which has in turn given the team more elbow room to craft and store Willow Neighbourhood Bar’s offering. Those familiar with Willow’s daytime menu, which boasts nourishing options like corn and zucchini fritters, house made baked beans, Belgian waffles, and pickle, cheese and kasundi toasties, will know that the team draws heavily from the pantry larder for its recipes. Megan and Sheree have extended this approach through to the evening, with much of what’s on the plate also available on the shelves. Whole baked camembert, gourmet dips, smoked almonds, arancini balls and grazing boards are fashioned from goods sourced from local suppliers. Everything is light and easily shareable, so as to encourage guests to branch out and try several things at once. Willow Neighbourhood Bar’s drinks list is flush with not-so-common names and varieties, curated specifically to nudge drinkers outside of their comfort zone and try something typically unseen in the area. With assistance from wine wholesaler Cork & Co., Megan and Sheree have assembled a list that features on-trend tipples from Unico Zelo, Amato Vino, La Violetta and Range Life, among others. Craft beers from Felons Brewing Co. and Banyo’s All Inn Brewing feature alongside mainstream sips, while a cocktail list will move with the weather, offering crafted drinks that transition to reflect the season. Willow’s pantry range continues to grow – it currently features everything from Pepe Saya cultured butter and Woombye Cheese’s ash brie to pickles and hot sauce from Pine River Pantry, mustard from Drunken Sailor Canning Co., and curry blends from Mudgeeraba Spices.
Willow Neighbourhood Bar is open to the public. Head to the Stumble Guide if you’re seeking opening hours and menu details.