Humbled by the award

Humbled by the award
Rhonda Dredge

Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar has won the Hall of Fame Award in the Eat Drink Design Awards 2022 for the most visually remarkable hospitality venues in Australia.

You can’t get more local than Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar in Bourke St where the Malaspina family has been in residence since 1974.

David Malaspina grew up playing in the lane and annoying the cooks upstairs while they were making strudel.  

He loves the place and so do the de facto family members; all of the customers who believe they were born here or wish they were.

“I was born cool. When I came here, I was cooler,” said one customer who has been here since the year dot. 

David said there had been pressure by some to upgrade “but we’re stubborn. We do it for our customers. We don’t change anything.” 

The bench is original 1950s vintage, so are the stools, shelves, ceiling, and all of the elements not controlled by health and safety regulations, even the menu.

“I wish we could find the original coffee machine,” David said. “It was the first in Melbourne.”


That feel for heritage has now been honoured by the annual Eat Drink Design Awards and the bar has gone into the hall of fame for its architecture, even the humble little kitchen where patrons can dine with the cooks.


“It’s an honour for us,” said David, who is humbled by all the attention turned on the place since his dad was so tragically murdered in 2018 and he returned to manage the Bourke St institution, giving up his other job in hospitality.

He said the original stools were great. “They’re fixed and you can’t get away from the person next to you, so you’re forced to have a relationship. You don’t know who it will be.”

“We had two gentlemen sit next to each other. One was a truck driver. It was Lindsay Fox. He’s hilarious. The Fox family are regulars.”

The place has now settled into delivering its vintage Italian dishes beneath a menu that looks like a roll of honour.

David is casual about the architectural features, though. As usual, he’s thinking more about the customers. “We have regulars from interstate, overseas and they want to come here and find it the same.” 

David refers to the killing of his father Sisto, who went to help out a driver he thought had been injured in a car crash, as “the tragedy”. 

It will remain that, the tragedy of Bourke St that future generations might want to research and reconstruct.

The then Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a press conference at the bar and a long stream of politicians came to give their regards to the family.

But the award honours another, happier time in history when Sisto and Vicki first went into partnership to buy Pelligrini’s.

That’s when they made the decision to preserve the original fit-out by Smith, Tracy, Lyon and Brook, projecting their respect into both the future and the past for a great CBD establishment. •


Caption: David Malaspina at Pellegrini’s.

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