Originally published on Broadsheet.
The redesign, by award-winning Adelaide firm Studio Gram, features dramatic curved archways, terrazzo-topped tables and soft green sunshades. Step aboard for Ponystar Martinis, rosé-sangria jugs and – soon – an Asian-focussed menu.
Revamping Ponyfish Island – Melbourne’s only bar in the middle of the Yarra – was an “emotional and delicate decision” for co-owner Andrew Mackinnon, but one that was in the making for years.
And while the saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” played on his mind – and those of his business partners Jerome Borazio and Grant Smillie – they decided to double down after what’s been a tough year for Melbourne. “This is a thank you to the people that often come down and enjoy Ponyfish Island,” Mackinnon says. “We want to show the city that we are proud to invest in this space.”
The floating bar, which has one of the most distinct backdrops in town, now has a more sophisticated (and comfier) Palm Springs-inspired look – perfect for lazy afternoon drinks in the sun. “We’ve grown up, so it’s time the bar grew up too,” says Borazio.
So, it was out with the quasi-nautical vibe, recycled timber furniture and chairs made from old pallets. They’ve been replaced with slick terrazzo-topped tables, cushy upholstered booths and cushioned stools – surrounded by splashes of soft green and orange. There’s also a bigger bar area (with dramatic curved archways overhead), and large, spherical lamps ensure the venue is better lit after sunset.
And, seeing as Ponyfish Island cops its fair share of sun, most tables now have individual green sunshades that swivel 360 degrees, so you can angle them however you wish.
Award-winning design firm Studio Gram (behind the fit-outs at Adelaide’s Africola, Shobosho, Osteria Oggi and Leigh Street Wine Room) was brought aboard to lead the redesign. But, being Adelaide-based, the team was unable to be on-site during lockdown; site visits were instead done via Zoom.
“A lot of people thought we were crazy to build without the designers present in Covid,” says Borazio. But, incredibly, the bar still managed to open right on schedule.
Ponyfish Island has also lifted its drinks game, particularly on the beer front. “One of the most exciting things for us is having beer taps for the first time,” says project manager Hayley Mitchell. You’ll now find Melbourne Bitter, Pirate Life’s South Coast Pale Ale, 4 Pines Summer Ale, Balter XPA and Asahi on pour.
There’s also a fresh and fruity new cocktail menu. Try the Ponystar Martini, with Passoa passionfruit liqueur, vodka, mango syrup, passionfruit and lime, or the Grandma Smith, which tips a cap to the owners’ long-time affinity for rum, which is mixed with applejack and green-apple syrup. Plus, get shareable, summery jugs of rosé sangria and Pimms.
While the food menu, which launches on December 11, will evolve over time, it’ll be Asian focussed to start with. Expect dumplings (steamed prawn and ginger, Wagyu beef, and pork) and steamed buns (vegan shiitake mushroom and XO, red duck curry, and satay chicken).
Southbank Pedestrian Bridge, Southgate
Lead image: Samantha Schultz