Becoming Bond in Melbourne

By Dominic Corry

Dominic Corry gratifies his nerdiness at a 007 extravaganza across the Ditch.

The Lui Bar, on the 55th floor of the Rialto Tower, is the perfect place for a pre-show drink.
The Lui Bar, on the 55th floor of the Rialto Tower, is the perfect place for a pre-show drink.

What I've always loved most about the James Bond films is that they allow anyone to be a total film nerd. Arguably the most widely known fictional character in modern cultural history, nobody can resist the allure of James Bond and his reliably bombastic movies.

Which goes some way to explaining the pure, giddy joy on the faces of the hundreds of well-attired folk surrounding me at Melbourne Museum.

We are here to celebrate the launch of the new exhibition Designing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style, an immensely impressive collection of props, costumes, artwork and other items from the most popular (non-wizard) film franchise of all-time.

EON Productions, the privately held company behind the Bond movies since the very beginning, is notoriously protective of its intellectual property, and its participation in this exhibition has ensured access to the famously thorough archives.

Every prop you can possibly imagine is on display - from Rosa Kleb's "knife-shoe'' to Jaws' shiny metal teeth. Illuminating production art shows break down the famous action scenes. The suits are impressive, but among the costumes on display, it is the Bond girls' dresses and bikinis that warrant the most attention.

No corner of the Bond universe is left unexplored - even my favourite 007, the perennially under-appreciated Timothy Dalton, gets his due.

A life-size reproduction of the infamous scene from 1964's Goldfinger in which Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) is discovered on her bed, dead from being "dipped in gold", is the unquestioned highlight.

Rumours of an appearance by the one-and-done Bond - Australian model-turned-actor George Lazenby, who apparently lives in the state of Victoria these days - float around the room, but sadly he is nowhere to be seen. Though the mannequin sporting Lazenby's outfit from his sole outing, 1969's On Her Majesty's Secret Service, seems suspiciously life-like.

Even this no-show can't dampen the excitement of the exhibition, which has reduced all present to a child-like state of wide-eyed wonder.

Having dressed up in my most Bond-like suit for the occasion, I am compelled to take a selfie. I'm usually hesitant to post photos of myself to Facebook, but several champagnes in I can't resist to the urge to adopt the "finger gun" pose in front of the Aston Martin and upload the picture. Most. Likes. Ever.

We abscond to one of Melbourne's many late-night bars, Siglo, drawn by the promise of its apparently legendary martinis. Boldly taking it upon myself to be the one in my group to order said drink "shaken not stirred", I can, in my limited ability to assess such things, say it is the best martini ever made. Two olives. Siglo's balcony overlooking Parliament Gardens only adds to the Bond-ian lushness of the evening.

Two martinis having gone down with worrying ease, I am feeling more Bond-like than ever, and eager to visit at least one more destination - especially one only accessable via a secret door.

Just down the road from Siglo, Hihou (Japanese for "Secret Garden'') is a Nippon-inspired bar with low-lighting and a smokey allure. A buzzer on an unmarked door is the only way to gain entrance, and the quietly cool atmosphere inside is perfect for late-night gourmet snacking and a nightcap or three. My transformation into James Bond is complete.

The next morning I enjoy an exquisite breakfast at Cumulus, Inc a restaurant/cafe/bar legendary among the locals. Its brunch offerings land at the midpoint between the casually scrumptious antipodean cafe experience and the slick, brass efficiency of the best Manhattan diners. I never knew a soft-boiled egg could appear so classy.

After breakfast I take the opportunity to dip into the Melbourne CBD's famously varied retail options before heading to the Crown Entertainment Plaza and lunch at No. 8, on the banks of the Yarra River. The Crown Entertainment Plaza's flagship restaurant, No. 8 is now overseen by Executive Chef John Lawson, whose emphasis on local produce and traditional cooking techniques results in a superlative dining experience.

Then we undertake one of the more unique experiences on offer in Melbourne - a tour of the city on the back of a Harley Davidson. My tour guide Stork looks the part but is clearly a gentle soul, and seeing the sights of the city from the back of a Harley is unforgettable.

Onward to dinner at Gazi, one of Melbourne's most famous Greek restaurants. Feeling slightly tougher than usual thanks to my time on the Harley, I decide to order the crispy lambs brains. They go down remarkably well, thanks in no small part to the accompanying charred leeks and pickled grapes. I promise I did not wince once while consuming this dish.

I have tickets for the evening's performance of the live King Kong stage show, but there is time for a quick drink at The Lui Bar, on the 55th floor of the Rialto Tower. As if the insane view wasn't enough, the bartender has us all transfixed by the unique method Lui Bar employs of providing provide pool ball-sized spheres of ice in their cocktails. It involves sawing a chunk off a big block of ice, which is then whittled down to a perfect ball. I will be demanding this kind of ice for all my old fashioneds from now on.

The King Kong live show at the Regent Theatre is unlike any theatrical production I have ever experienced - the sheer scale is dazzling and Kong himself is a masterpiece of artful puppetry and cutting-edge stage mechanics. Coming from the people behind the Walking With Dinosaurs stage show, Kong very successfully engenders the sympathy required for the story to work. I was blown away.

The next day, my Melbourne experience comes full circle with the grandiosity of Victoria Derby Day, the opening event of the annual Melbourne Cup Carnival. Occuring as it does on the Saturday beforehand, this day of races is traditionally better-attended than Melbourne Cup day itself. There are tens of thousands of people here, and not one single person has let the side down; sartorially. It's like being at the Big Day Out if everyone was dressed like they're going to a wedding.

The sun shines; the cocktails flow; and the food never stops arriving. They really do love their racing in Victoria, and they do it with style.

James Bond would be proud.

- Herald on Sunday

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