Lightning in a bottle shop
If you wanted to live dangerously you’d open a video/DVD store or, say, a bottle shop amid others owned by publicly listed giants.
It would probably die a slow death, unless, there was some greater vision of being a shining beacon for the community, not just a shop.
Like those video stores that once dotted our suburbs, P&V Wine & Liquor Merchants is built on people. If your local VHS haunt was any good, the nightshift clerk would be an encyclopedia of slasher nightmares and heist dreams.
P&V does that in the form of a bottle shop and a breeding ground. Part-owner, journalist, presenter and mad wine writer Mike Bennie says it’s not just piss and vinegar as the name suggests.
It looks different and the product mix is full of unique finds the staff and owners like to eat/drink – wine on tap, demijohns of tailor-made spirits, local pickles, sauces, kombucha, TV dinners and organic oysters.
There’s something brewing here, a feeling of culture and community, of friends and neighbours. There are more people invested in P&V than just the owners, and they’re invested in their community of Newtown, Enmore, and Enmore Road itself.
“I think it’s one of the most exciting and burgeoning neighbourhoods and streets that exists in Australia,” Bennie says.
It’s kinda a badge of honour to be in the melting pot of restaurants that make up the fabric of Newtown and Enmore. From P&V you could spit wine and hit a number of top diners, Hartsyard, The Gretz, Stinking Bishops and more. The locals’ bars include Midnight Special, Jacoby’s Tiki Bar, Earl’s Juke Joint and the mothership, Mary’s. There’s relentless foot traffic from people looking for somewhere to BYO. And Camperdown Memorial Park is a legitimate place to throw a picnic with a glass of wine ‘til 9pm (surprising but true… the law’s on our side here).
Two months in, someone has already taken to the shop walls in P&V, scrawling an unofficial list in permanent marker of nearby restaurants that allow BYO. It’s one obvious yet never-before-seen detail (anyone?) for a bottle shop. And here, it’s part of that wider sentiment of what it is to be a local in Newtown/Enmore and surrounds.
“It’s just people doing different things,” Bennie says. “We have a two-level building that is now a flagship store for artisan beer, wine and spirits. And this helps give a profile to these people, who in turn are also giving weight to what we do.
“There’s an incredible neighbourhood here. People all work around each other and are active with the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre. I do wine training with the staff at Earl’s or other bars and it’s about helping and nourishing this amazing community.”
“It’s not competitive it’s collaborative.”
We ponder whether that’s a particularly Newtown thing for a moment. Mary’s co-founders Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham collaborated with Bennie on P&V, together with business partner Lou Dowling. It’s another in a long list of successful business launches, popups and general tomfoolery for those guys.
Nearby brewery Young Henrys have collaborated with everyone from local bands to the MCA and the SSO.
Someone is always making something with someone here.
“I don’t think that exists anywhere else to be honest,” Bennie says.
“There are pockets of Sydney that definitely have that good vibe but I don’t think anywhere has the spread or depth or same feel of what is going on here.
“You do have villages like Potts Point and Bondi or Surry Hills where everyone is working together and doing amazing things but not in the same headspace like it is here.
“Sydney is like Copenhagen, Tokyo, London, and Paris – it’s on par with those places with ease. And it’s easily the most exciting place to eat and drink in Australia. But I think Newtown itself is a beacon amongst that. It’s exciting and collaborative and cutting edge – it’s all the things that play in that space.”
With a focus on natural wine, small makers, and buying directly from producers where possible, the initial success of P&V was a sure thing. But what has surprised the team is the willingness of locals to immediately become staunch regulars. They’re experimenting and taking advice and soaking up education points from the staff.
On the shop floor, the collective knowledge is a dangerous thing. Dowling is across Inner West craft brews and Australian artisan spirits. Matty Hirsch has a grad in gastronomic sciences from Bra, Italy. Tom Colman studied oenology at Adelaide Uni researching the effects of preservatives on natural sparkling wines, and manager Andrew Woodforth is a bottle shop veteran from start ups to high-end stores.
“No one has ever gelled so quickly, we have some very bright minds here, an insane talent bank,” Bennie says.
“I’ve always wanted to push the boundaries of what a bottle shop looks like. We have quality, originality, authenticity, and we like the things we do and the people we work with.
“And all those things, so intrinsic to this business, are what makes it good and potent.”