Australia’s historic heritage shops

By Rebecca Jones 3 July 2012
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Step back in time as you enter these wonderful old shops, virtually unchanged for decades.

AT THE EASTERN end of Bourke Street in Melbourne, Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar serves the hearty, authentic Italian food it has always prepared – coffee in every possible variation, a variety of pasta dishes, bread, and perhaps a refreshing watermelon granita on a hot day.

Pellegrini’s has barely changed since the day it was opened in 1954 by the Pellegrini brothers, Leon and Vildo. Its exterior signs echo the 1950s while, inside, a black-and-white chequerboard floor and two rows of stools at counters run the length of the shop. By way of a menu, a simple wooden sign hangs from the ceiling, unchanged for decades. Neatly dressed waiters welcome patrons with the polite formality of “madam” or “sir”. Regulars are greeted like old friends with a warm handshake, a kiss on the cheek or, for some, a dance and a twirl with cravat-wearing Sisto Malaspina, co-owner of Pellegrini’s.

Sisto and business partner Nino Pangrazia bought the restaurant from the Pellegrini brothers in 1974, and they have left it just as it was at that time. “It has a patina,” Sisto says. “A real patina, not a created patina. It has a soul. There are people who have been coming for 30 or 40 years, [and] even those who may not have been in for 30 or 40 years, when they come, they reconnect with the place.”

Both Sisto and Nino work very long hours, but  shrug it off. “It’s a good life,” Nino tells me. The next day is his 50th wedding anniversary. He took his wife Beverly to Pellegrini’s on their first date..

Read the full story in issue 109 (July/August 2012) of Australian Geographic magazine.