A couple of bakers open a wine bar. It’s not an unfamiliar story in hospitality – daytime operators trying their hand at the night trade – but the stakes are always going to feel higher when it’s Lune. This is the buzziest bakery (or croissanterie) in the country, maybe the world. It can’t just open any old boozer.
It turns out Butler isn’t any old boozer. This immaculate Hogg & Lamb-designed wine bar opens next Thursday and it’s a beauty. A teeny-tiny bolthole of timber, mirrored glass and steel tucked next to Lune South Brisbane, it’s arrived six months late but absolutely as sibling owners Kate and Cam Reid, business partner Nathan Toleman and general manager Ryan Butler intended.
“To a strip of wood, it’s what we thought it would be,” says Butler, who has lent the venue his surname. “Despite all those delays, and every pushback we’ve dealt with, what we’ve landed on as the end product is like being inside the renders.”
There was a clutch of reasons behind the delay. But mostly, it was because of the late arrival of the great sheets of spotted gum armourply that line the walls, cocooning the space.
“Materials don’t arrive and as soon as you can’t complete your build, the tradies scatter to the four winds,” Cam says. “They’ve got other contracts they need to fill. So even once you have the materials, it’s quite hard to get everyone back on-site.
“It was tempting to change. When they have something else sitting there, ready to go, for sure. But we thought, ‘We’ve waited this long. We might as well keep waiting.’”
“That material completely wraps the place up,” Kate says. “I’ve never been in a wine bar that’s finished like this. I’m glad we stuck to our guns. It’s so special.”
It’s true. Butler might be tiny, but it makes the most of its sliver of a tenancy underneath The Standard residential tower in South Brisbane. The long main room, with its high ceiling, has been cleverly arranged into two areas around a central supporting column: enter and slip past a floor-to-ceiling mirror, and you’re presented with a long bar built from one solid piece of spotted gum. The seating wraps all the way around the bar to the service area, placing punters right in the middle of the action. To the left is an open kitchen station. At the back is a second small room with two small tables, for those chasing something more private. The lights are kept low, and with the mirrored surfaces it’s sometimes hard to tell where the venue ends and the reflections begin, adding to the sense of being transported elsewhere.
It doesn’t feel anything at all like Lune and that’s a good thing. This is not Lune After Dark. There are no croissants here.
Instead, Butler chef Jane Kim (previously chef de partie at Goma Restaurant) is cooking a short menu of small and larger sized plates that suits either a casual snack or being arranged into a proper meal. Dishes will change frequently but you might start with oysters served with a kombu mignonette, a crisp mushroom tart with tarragon mayo, or a simple plate of house pickles and ferments. Scaling up, there’s kingfish crudo with citrus and lemongrass; chicken-liver parfait with freshly baked sourdough; jamon iberico with ricotta and persimmon; and sous vide pork belly served with gochujang and puffed buckwheat. Throughout, the dishes are kept relatively simple, and stay out of the way of their own produce.
For drinks, there’s a carefully compiled 85-bottle wine list that favours Australian and Queensland drops without getting heavy-handed about it. A Dal Zotto 2016 La Nebbia Col Fondo King Valley nebbiolo sits next to a biodynamic 2016 Benoit Dehu La Rue des Noyers Vallée de la Marne pinot meunier sits next to a 2021 Jumpin Juice Yellow Margaret River sauvignon blanc. There are few dad wines here. Likewise the backbar, which is stocked high with spirits such as Poor Toms gin, Idle Hour vodka, Stolen smoked rum and Starward whisky.
Butler will take limited bookings by phone – otherwise it will reserve most of its seats for walk-ins, the better to serve the South Brisbane locals who live in the surrounding apartment buildings. And this, after all, is what Brisbane needs more of: small neighbourhood venues that help add texture to the city’s sometimes top-heavy dining and drinking scene.
“The way we run our entire company, which includes Lune and now Butler, is that we want to provide people with exceptional experiences,” Kate says. “That doesn’t just stop at Lune. It stops at a night-time bar that serves wine rather than a daytime bakery that serves coffee and croissants.”
“If anything, I think it’s more important with Butler,” Cam adds. “When you go into a night-time venue, if you’re not a big wine person, say – maybe you like a glass here or there – what you’re really committing to is the time in the space. ‘I’m going to go to this venue and settle in for two or three hours.’ I think there is a high expectation of us and it’s really important for us to meet or exceed expectations that people may have. We want to blow people away and you’re not going to do that if you mail it in.”
Butler opens July 7.
15 Manning Street, South Brisbane
0436 633 455
Thu to Mon 4pm–11pm