I was out and about in Melbourne Town on Saturday night, catching up with a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in what turned out to be a couple of months. We know, we sat down to work it out. Horrified at the thought, we decided to cram a few nights out into one so, from our Gin Palace beginnings – Singapore Slings and Pink Ladies all round – we headed to dinner at Alexanders (turns out the Sensational Steak Sandwich is, in fact, sensational. Even if only half of the sandwich is steak and the other half is pork. But I digress) before finishing up at a venue I’ve been meaning to try for an eternity but never seem to get to. Seamstress.
You can see why I’m bringing it up here. A former textile warehouse, it shows its history in at least a superficial way that I found both intriguing and depressing. It is essentially just another one of Melbourne’s many bars, hidden upstairs for cocktails or downstairs for Sweatshop – the place of beers and DJs – or food in between. The twist is that they have festooned the roof of the upstairs area with child-size cheong sams, and a couple of the tables are in fact old industrial sewing machines. As much as I loved the art on the walls (excellent use of industrial sized reels of many-coloured sewing thread), I was appalled to find that the machines appeared to be in working order.
Or they would have been if needles and belts hadn’t been removed to make them safe for drunk people to be around. Turning the wheels by hand, however, the feed dogs still moved, much to the delight of one girl seated at a mid-twentieth century Singer. I couldn’t get close to the Jones machine to check it out as well, but if it also worked, I couldn’t help but think what a waste it was. These machines have done the hard yards. They are the work horses of the clothing industry, and they are often still cited as machines used by current professionals. They don’t die. Ever. And as someone with a yen for machines, I feel that they deserve better than to be put through the indignities of drunken people sprawling on them. In short, I believe that they deserve to be taken home by a loving wanna-be seamstress and put to the use that they were intended for. Architect Louis Kahn may have advocated a design approach of “Ask a brick what it wants to be”, but I prefer “ask a machine what it wants to sew”. To be blunt, these machines deserve to be owned by someone who can appreciate them for what they do, not for tenuous links to a history open for exploitation.
That said, the moderately over-priced cocktails at the bar were tasty (silver fizz, anyone?). The ambiance was cosy, the early-mid twentieth century jazz soundtrack just right. The bartenders were aloof rather than friendly, but the – not sure what to call him really, maitre’d? concierge? seating arranger? anyhoo – boy buzzing around like a blue-arsed fly was exceedingly friendly and almost made up for them. I will probably be back to this bar. But I refuse to be as enthralled by it as others have been. It’s the principle of the thing. Wasting good sewing machines on a bar. Hmph.