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Mirka at Tolarno, Melbourne

Thursday, November 22, 2007

St Kilda has always been rather bohemian. It is full of juicy stories, creative people and amazing characters — amd none more so than Mirka Mora. She is one of Melbourne's most famous and beloved characters, and Hotel Tolarno is dedicated to her.

The landmark building on St Kilda's Fitzroy Street is just 10 minutes from the CBD and is a popular eating and drinking area.

Georges Mora bought Tolarno in 1965 and it was to be a hotel, restaurant, gallery, residence and studio for his Parisian wife, Mirka. Tolarno French Bistro, Gallery and hotel opened later that year and was the trendiest French Bistro in town and the gallery held a remarkable series of art exhibitions.

Tolarno was not the Mora's first café. In 1954 they opened Mirka's in Exhibition Street, and the contemporary art society was born upstairs. It moved to Tavistock Place with exhibitors such as Charles Blackman, Arthur Boyd, Laurie Daws, Robert Dickerson, Joy Hester, Clifton Pugh. So many extraordinarily talented painters all showing in one venue. Mirka and Georges were pioneers of so much that have since become normal in culinary and cultural life.

In 1958 they moved to larger premises on Wellington Parade and opened Balzac.

The current premises in St Kilda was a boom house built in 1884 by a mayor of St Kilda. In 1886 he converted it into a genteel guest house, complete with croquet lawn on the front garden.

In 1928 (or possibly 1933) a modern rear wing of 29 bedrooms was added and renamed after a pastoral property on the Darling River in the Riverina — Tolarno.

The modernist six bedroom wing and the present restaurant were added to the Victorian house on its former front garden and croquet lawn in the 1940s.

The Moras converted the rear dinning room into an art gallery and Mirka used the hotel bridal suite as a studio and she painted her now-famous murals on the walls of the property.

In the late 1970s Tolarno was sold to Leon Massoni, son of the founder of Café Florentino. The fashionable eatery was filled and refilled every night with hundreds of contented patrons.

Melbourne diners are abuzz again with the revamped downstairs restaurant — Mirka at Tolarno. She has restored her original murals and they adorn the walls. The man behind the restaurant's new life is Guy Grossi whose career began as a 15-year-old apprentice in the very same kitchen.

The restaurant is open every day for lunch from noon and dinner. Bookings are essential and they do cater for private functions for groups of 12 to 70 in three special rooms.

There's nothing dull about Tolarno Hotel. As you enter you are greeted by a burst of purple, orange and green, and walls lined with works of art. Don't be in a hurry to get to your room — there's too much to see on the way.

Rooms are contemporary deco inspired. Balconies have a touch of retro and from them you can soak in the St Kilda experience. Look towards the city skyline and Bolte Bridge and enjoy magnificent views by day and night.

Location

Melbourne's beachside suburb of St Kilda.

Cost

Tolarno Hotel rooms start at $130 a double a night.

Virgin Blue has flights to Melbourne.

From fare
Adelaide
$95
Sydney
$115
Brisbane
$149
Darwin
$199
Perth
$229

There are limited seats which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares are one-way on the Net. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one way flight is applicable. Fares are correct at November 22, 2007 and are subject to change.

For more information

Mirka at Tolarno
42 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda 3182
Ph: (03) 9525 3088
Website: www.mirkatolarno.com

Tolarno Hotel
42 Fitzroy Street
St Kilda 3182
Ph: (03) 9537 0200
Fax: (03) 9534 7800
Website: www.hoteltolarno.com.au
Email: mail@hoteltolarno.com.au

Virgin Blue
Ph: 13 6789
Website: www.virginblue.com.au

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