Australia’s longest established antiquarian bookstore Berkelouw Books is pioneering the way for an improved drinking culture.
Swilling pinot noir while perusing shelves of ancient tomes seems a sweet reverie for book and wine fanciers alike. Now, Berkelouw Books has realised the dream and is pioneering the way for an improved drinking culture.
Embracing Sydney’s current trend of licensed cafes and small bars Berkelouw Books has opened the city’s first hybrid boutique wine bar and bookstore. An empty space in Berkelouw’s Leichardt branch – idyllically situated in the cultural epicentre of Sydney’s ‘Little Italy’ – has been transformed by Colin Cappelleri and Gary Mullins who share a passion for fine wine and local produce. The resulting mix of seasonal fine wines, tasting plates, and the sounds of live, low-key jazz does not disappoint.
“We have always wanted to create a small, intimate fine wine bar to help change the blue collar drinking culture in Sydney” says Cappelleri, previous owner of Berkelouw Books’ cafe in Paddington. “When the Berkelouw brothers came to me and said ‘we’ve got a space for you in our Leichardt shop’, the prospect of intertwining a bookshop and a wine bar was just so unique we couldn’t pass it up.”
Steering clear of the intimidating lists encountered on wine tours around the globe, Cappelleri and Mullin’s decided to compile to a small, seasonal selection. “We learned over the years that un-commercial, boutique wineries had something really special to offer and we decided to feature not just the labels you can’t find at the bottle shop, but labels from particular regions.”
Their wine list currently highlights a selection of cool climate wines from the Orange region focusing on award-winning varieties from the Borrodell and Brangayne wineries, which are coupled with fresh produce from the same area, including cherries, olives and delectable cheeses. “Simple, boutique regional – without a wine list that drags out all year round” says Cappelleri. “I believe our wines rival the best. Even the French are starting to notice that Aussies produce some great wines.”
After a sip of Strawhouse Shiraz and a decent read of one’s preferred book, patrons will quickly realise the Berkelouw Wine Bar’s one-of-a-kind experience is perfectly refined. “We don’t appeal to the VB drinking public, but we also didn’t want to pretend to be some multi-million dollar fit out. We’re all about being casual, relaxed and enjoying the finer things.” The bar’s charming and quirky decor includes thermal insulators built into the antique coffee tables and light shades custom-made by children’s book author and illustrator Emma Magenta.
“This has been in a work in progress for a long time,” says Cappelleri. Elaborating that the Berkelouw’s five-acre vineyard Berrima estate is also being prepped for the addition of a cellar door. “The Berkelouw brothers want to introduce the wine lifestyle to all of their stores, just to take it to the next step.”
Berkelouw Books has certainly come a long way since Solomon Berkelouw first opened the doors of a small bookshop in Rotterdam, Holland in 1812. A trader in vellum-bound theology books, Solomon gained recognition for catering to affluent travelers wide scholarly interests, selling his wares at the docks of Rotterdam Quay. But his vocation led to an untimely demise. While loading a customer’s ship at the Warf he lost his footing and drowned under the weight of his own cargo.
Solomon’s son, Carel, carried on his father’s legacy expanding the business with the aid of his own son Hartog and Hartog’s four children. But success did not come easy. The Rotterdam shop front was destroyed during the First World War and the family was left to rebuild Berkelouw’s legacy, which Isadoor, one of Hartog’s sons, decided could be pursued in Australia.
Initial success come from opening a shop in Newtown in the 1960s, following which Isadoor and his two sons Leo and Henry decided to settle Berkelouw Books headquarters in the NSW Southern Highlands on the ‘Bendooley’ property in Berrima. Soon the younger Berkelouw brothers progressively began opening outlets that now pepper Australia’s cosmopolitan suburbs including Paddington, Rose Bay and Melbourne’s Armadale.
Almost one hundred years after first opening, Berkelouw Books now boasts over one million books in store, including out-of-print, antiquarian and new titles. Having already propitiously catered for customer’s desire of having coffee at hand while perusing the books (cafés are a regular inclusion in their outlets), Berkelouw’s wine bar is now setting the benchmark for licensed bookshops in Australia.
Berkelouw Books Level 1
70 Norton Street Leichhardt NSW 2040
Phone: (02) 9560 3200
Thursday – Saturday 1pm – 10pm Sunday – 1pm – 9pm
WHAT’S ON – LIVE MUSIC
Thursday’s: Magda Czarnocka – Jazz & Classical Piano
Friday’s: Rinske Geerlings – singing jazz, soft Latin, bossanova and a few French chansons and tangos.
Sunday’s: Dan Biederman – Piano