October 1, 2022 – Bar La Sirène opens in Alphington
October 7, 2023 – Bar La Sirène opens in Reservoir
The past year has been a roller-coaster for the Australian craft beer industry – arguably even wilder than the years of pandemic lockdowns. And if any brewery out there has endured a crazier time than La Sirène, well, you have our sympathies.
Yesterday, Costa and Eva Nikias welcomed the public through the doors of their stylish new brewery bar in Reservoir for the first time. It was an occasion for smiles, celebrations and, of course, no little déjà vu.
Just 371 days earlier, they'd done exactly the same thing: welcoming eager guests into a converted warehouse with a very similar ambience, lined with the same beer-and-fruit-filled barrels, pouring many of the same beers, and with a DJ spinning familiar tunes. It's just that on October 1, 2022, it all took place in Alphington, approximately 11km away.
And, while they might only have moved the brewery – lock, stock, and scores of barrels – a 20 minute drive, the journey the couple and their team have been through over that period has been far longer, filled with more obstacles, pitfalls, ups, downs and cliff edges than the most extreme episode of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.
"It was just amazing," Costa tells me the morning after their soft opening. "I'm still sort of processing everything."
Little wonder. Two months after opening the first Bar La Sirène to much fanfare – an occasion that had been years in the making – they took to socials to announce they'd been locked out of their building, along with several other longstanding business tenants at the Melbourne Innovation Centre. The landlord, Darebin City Council, claimed dangerous levels of asbestos had been found and it appeared they would never be allowed back inside, and that potentially everything inside – brewery, bar, barrels, beer, the livelihood they'd built over a decade – would be destroyed.
There followed weeks of confusion – they were allowed in again but told they'd need to be out again – and plenty of occasions on which the couple considered throwing in the towel. But they didn't, with Eva suggesting Costa's belief in the Spartan concept of "beautiful death" and their determination to keep this unique part of modern Australian beer culture alive carrying them through to this weekend's reopening.
They signed a lease on their new home in Edwardes Street a few weeks before they were due to be booted from Alphington and set about creating La Sirène II under a different sawtooth roof in Reservoir.
"We would have been very justified to leave the industry at that point," Costa admits, "especially given the state of the industry. We've given it 13 years, but there's just so much I want to do and so many more programs I want to execute in that wild ale space.
"I didn't want to leave on someone else's terms given the investment in time and energy and money we've put in. There's a lot more to do, and I know that might take another 13 – or 50! – years. Who knows?
"I loved Alphington, and I loved the site but it wasn't meant to be long-term. It would have been nice to know that!"
Head into the new space and it's remarkable how well they've recreated the vibe of the original bar: vibrantly backlit barrels and tanks form impromptu walls between the hospitality and production, and the same bar is staffed by the same friendly faces.
There's changes for the better too: they've built a cosy beer garden on the street that gives them an overall capacity of 100; the roof is fully sealed unlike in Alphington so it's easier to keep the venue warm; and they've built a kitchen too. So, instead of the bar team putting together snacks and platters behind the bar, there's a steady flow of rustic, "Spanish-esque" dishes – clams, sardines and octopus, hearty meatballs (with a vego option), cheese and charcuterie platters, and so on – making their way to tables.
It's of a quality that, taken together with what's offer at Molly Rose in Collingwood a few suburbs away, is a reminder of just how far the local beer scene has come since Costa cracked his first 750ml bottle of Saison a dozen or so years earlier.
The next stage of their Reservoir renaissance will see them open a private dining room overlooking the brewery upstairs, which will allow them to elevate their beer and food pairing further.
As for the move, one that saw Costa still pulling 3am finishes right up until opening – including a run to the 24-hour Kmart in Campbellfield on the eve of the soft launch – the keenest focus was on ensuring the collection of barrels made it across town as calmly as possible.
"We got this really good driver, Tom, who understood we didn't want to swish the barrels on the truck," Costa says. "We didn't want to break the pellicle [the film that forms on top of fermenting beer].
"We plotted the best path from Alphington to Rezza and did a lot of it at nighttime when traffic wasn't an issue. Once they were there, the first thing we did was to lay them in place quickly."
While the brewery has made a great play of their location on the edge of Darebin Parklands in the past – they put out several vintages of their Darebin Wild Ale – they're happy with the potential for spontaneous fermentation at the new location. Merri Creek is a couple of hundred metres away, Edwardes Lake – which was the inspiration for the first new beer in Reservoir, Saison du Lac – is 150m down the road, and there's Edgars Creek behind the brewery too.
The hope is to fill the coolship – on view as you enter the venue – as soon as possible so they're able to put the most recent coolship brew from Alphington out alongside it as a comparison: a single suburb spontaneous series, if you will. When ready, you'll find them on the shelves of the bottleshop, which is as much cellar or museum, after they pulled out around 2,000 bottles dating back almost a decade in order to showcase their history and evolution.
Among the barrels lining the outer wall of the bottleshop is the one at the top of this article. "ALPHINGTON" has been struck through with chalk, and "RESERVOIR" scrawled above.
"[Brewer] Liam put the idea forward. It is what it is," Costa explains. "It's where we have come from and where we are now. No more Alphington. Bring on Rezza!"
The new La Sirène is at 277 Edwardes Street, Reservoir. The bar is open Fridays 5pm to 10pm, Saturdays midday to 11pm, and Sundays midday to 6pm. You'll find more photos on their updated Crafty listing here.