By 5:30 PM—30 minutes before opening—there is a queue outside the front door of George's Bar in Fitzroy, an inner-city Melbourne suburb. George's Bar pays homage to Seinfeld character George Costanza: prince of the under-achievers and chief of the socially inept. The bar opened with very little fanfare on New Year's Eve, and by New Year's Day, George's Bar received a Twitter shout-out from Jason Alexander himself. Alexander lamented his lack of an Emmy for his portrayal of Costanza, but publicly celebrated his new namesake bar down under. Suddenly, the George troops assembled. This bar is now a beacon for Seinfeld lovers and fans of ironic 90s decor.
Are there other bars dedicated to sitcom characters? Not that we know of. Did the world need a George Costanza-themed bar? Probably not, but now we have one and Melbourne is the perfect home for it. Australians are fonder of Seinfeld than Brits, so it's a well-suited international home for a New York-based character. Perhaps it's our common penchant for righteous indignation, or our love of barbecued meats that predisposes us to a shared love of the show. The overlap doesn't stop there: former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott—to the shock and horror of the international community—was offered a raw onion by a farmer and then bit into it like an apple. Seinfeld fans already know George Costanza did the same more than two decades earlier. And when Australian Parliament got particularly chaotic in November of 2014, Australian YouTube user Huw Parkinson made a viral video mash-up of Parliament and Seinfeld. A love of discomfort with the day-to-day navigation of life is not unique to Americans.
Completely coincidentally, it was announced last week that a Larry David-themed bagel shop will soon open up the road in the suburb of Thornbury. Both sets of owners have said they did not know about each other until George's Bar opened. Superfans in Melbourne are not content to quietly enjoy cultural heroes and themes. Here in Melbourne, we turn them into pop-ups, bars, and restaurants. Fitzroy is the cultural heart of Melbourne's eclectic food and beverage scene, and a hub for pop culture-inspired food spots. A Biggie Smalls kebab shop just opened down the road, and there's currently a pop-up post-apocalyptic food truck park a short tram ride away.
There is something particularly Melbourne about George. Dave Barrett, who owns George's Bar with his wife Tina, said that George is the only Seinfeld character who would likely hang out in Fitzroy; it's a good home for his sardonic wit and extensive collection of plaid shirts.
The Barretts decided on the name George's Bar in honour of Tina's father George, and then worked backwards on the concept. Both are Costanza lovers themselves, and they knew that many of their acquaintances and friends would love a George-themed bar. They wanted a place that's relaxed and a reliably good time. The character is certainly not a culinary icon or a bar wizard, and his tastes throughout the series are relatively simple. The irony, the hundreds of quotable moments, and the demonstrated Australian love of George is what prompted the Barretts to run with the concept.
George's Bar is exactly what I expected. Dave Barrett was clear that he was not attempting to create a bar theme park, but rather loosely craft one as an homage to a beloved schmuck. The food options at George's Bar are limited. There is a new Twix-only vending machine and small bowls of pretzels; both are on offer for $2.00.
For those craving something more substantial, there is a small menu of five toasties. These are not gourmet toasties—think cheese and tomatoes pressed between two slices of supermarket bread. At $5.00, they are likely among the cheapest in the city. They are totally unremarkable but reliably satisfying, and this is how Barrett wanted it. If this sounds like a criticism, it's not; a cheap and cheerful toastie, a candy bar, some good beer, and a round of Frogger are a great night out. The concept revolving around George—in some ways, the very embodiment of lovable mediocrity—would be lost in anything too spectacular. George just wants a big hunk of cheese, and he sweats when there's too much spice on his meat. Dishes with names like the "Mom and Pop" (ham and cheddar) and "The Quitter" (pesto, tomato, mozzarella) are kitschy without being overly themed. The throngs of both George fanatics and locals clearly agree; the bar staff churn out toasties without reprieve all night. I heard ample chortles among groups waiting to order toasties, recalling Art Vandelay moments or George as a hand model.
The drinks—particularly the cocktails and beer—are the focus here. Barrett is determined that George's should stand on its own outside of the Costanza theme as a strong bar with a talented team and a great drinks menu. "I wanted it to be a good, solid local with high-caliber drinks service in a casual environment," he said.
I tried the Summer of George, which is a delightful blend of fresh-squeezed Granny Smith apple juice, a splash of bitters, and a spirit of one's choice (bartender's choice: Sailor Jerry's for the complementary vanilla notes). I struck up a conversation about The Hand Model with a die-hard George fan on holiday from Pennsylvania who manufactures salsa. He remarked that the pink concoction—served in small goblet—was too feminine for George.
"Everyone's a critic," Barrett said of those with very particular ideas about what should be changed or added. There have been some George and Seinfeld lovers who Barrett believes "would only have been satisfied if Jason Alexander handed them a drink as they walked through the door." Admittedly, I had my fingers crossed.
For the most part, though, George fans are thrilled by the lo-fi, no-frills establishment, which is decked out in George art and paraphernalia. The dark wood, diner-style booths are a far cry from the Scandi-chic aesthetic that's hip right now, and are vaguely reminiscent of those in George's beloved diner on the show. My night felt very much like a night in any dive bar. You line up for a while at the bar, drink quite a lot, and then line up again.
Theoretically, you may strike up a conversation with some 16-year-olds from Melbourne's outer suburbs who made a trek out to George's Bar on a Friday night to celebrate their Seinfeld hero. (This was the highlight of my night, at least.) They sat in a booth under a wall of black-and-white printed George heads, munching on toasties. When asked their ages by staff, they told the truth and were asked (politely) to finish their food and leave. They'd planned their George-inspired reply—"it's not a lie if you believe it"—if asked their age, but blew it in the heat of the moment. I felt about as lame as George when we high-fived as they exited past the enormous George Costanza mural on the wall outside and got the tram home. "We'll come back when we're 18!" they said. I laughed, and so did the elderly couple sitting next to me, quietly sipping their cocktails and taking in the scenery.
Welcome to Australia, George.