Bourke Street Pellegrini's
A shrine for Pellegrini's co-owner Sisto Malaspina. Image: James Ross/AAP.

Pellegrini’s. Pellegrini’s! Its scribbled neon in the night, its flashing mirrors and zinc tops, the noise of talk and machines grinding away, the arch aroma, the bittersweet taste. Everyone who went to Pellegrini’s knew his name was Sisto, apparently. Not me. Been going there for 40 years, and I never knew him as anything other than Pellegrini’s guy.

For a few years in the '90s and again in the 2000s, I practically lived in the place. The front counter had one of the last blue payphones on it, and I edited Arena Magazine from there, with stacked rolls of dollar coins beside. That amused him, then he tolerated it, then it pissed him off. Eventually after a couple of hours, standing beside the bakelite radio and the ancient kitchen intercom on the place’s never-cleared shelves, he would lean over and put his thumb on the cradle button, and the call would cease. "That is all for today, my friend."

He was black-haired then, in a pure Mastrello Mastroianni-do, the tied kerchief and the striped shirt, part of the little piece of La Dolce Vita that the place offered to Melbourne, when it was still grim city, and the winter wind blew up and down streets emptied at half-past six, and there wasn’t that much else to go.