A chance conversation over coffee led Frunch Nazzari to discover Curtin House’s now-famous rooftop. We sat down with him to find out how this once dormant space has evolved into one of Melbourne’s best known bars and cinemas, and the impact it’s had on Curtin House.

> What was this space before it became the Rooftop Bar and Cinema?
The rooftop was nothing before the bar and cinema – just a space you could access from the stairwell next to the lift shaft. It was effectively the motor room. I was thinking about experiences within the city and how they were usually at a packed pub or nightclub where it was loud and messy. We wanted to create something that was more relaxed and beautiful and started thinking about how nice outdoor cinemas were. It began with a fantasy and a dream and became this.

> What about this space made you choose it as the home of Rooftop Cinema?
During our search for a space, we were out having a coffee and the barista was like, “Dudes, I’ve got a rooftop in the city, why don’t you come and check it out?” When we saw this space we knew we were on so something special. We wanted to realise our dream here. Nine months later, the cinema was up and running.

I don’t think something unique just happened here – it brought about a series of changes to the city. In the 90s, the city was defined by its laneways. Rooftop Bar and Cinema ushered in a new way of thinking about rooftops and re-imagining what was happening in these spaces and how they could be experienced.

> From the start this rooftop was about using the space and using it right – delivering something special for people seeking something a little different. How have you done that?
We’re obsessed with the idea of doing things differently and making the experience here a little bit special. Rooftop Cinema is unique – it’s arguably the world’s best outdoor cinema experience. That in itself has become an obsession for us, and impacts how we use the space. We want to make sure that every touchpoint is special and unique – from the website through to when you leave the cinema. We think about it as a full sensory experience. Everything’s thought about – from the seat you sit in, to the blanket you use, to the popcorn you eat. It’s not a happy accident. That’s how we make things special: by focusing on the small things that impact the overall experience.

> Curtin House is many things to many people. Tell us a bit about how the space is used creatively, and is flexible and adaptable.
Curtin House is unique as a building and so are its inhabitants. Every tenant in this building gives something to one another and every tenant has contributed to Curtin House’s legacy. It’s like the space has been curated. From the beginning, management wanted each tenant to give back to the building and for the building to give back to each tenant. This unorthodox approach has given people here the freedom to think about space, and to think about it creatively. The rooftop was refurbished last year – take us through the changes and the challenges this presented. Ten years on, the idea of a rooftop experience has changed, and the use of these spaces creatively has changed. I couldn’t even guess how many people have walked through here over the years.

After running a venue for a decade, you realise there’s things you can evolve. The fundamentals are still here – we’ve built on that with a view to setting up something that’s the world’s best. Moving the bar opened up an enormous amount of space, as did raising the deck. The best seats to watch a film are up there, and now more people can do that. We’ve got the kitchen operating behind the cinema screen now, and this extra space allowed the team at Rooftop Bar to expand the menu there. We’ve added to the cinema and the full sensory experience we’d already created.

> Melbourne has seen a boom in outdoor summer cinemas in recent years. How and why is Rooftop Cinema iconic and unlike any other?
Outdoor cinema is going through a halcyon period of expansion. In the beginning, we were perceived as innovative. Now, with so many developments in outdoor cinema, we’ve moved from ‘innovative’ to ‘iconic’. We’ve seen the flow-on effect of Rooftop Cinema to other outdoor cinema offerings. And while we don’t compare ourselves to anyone else, knowing how much bigger the outdoor cinema scene is now makes us even more fixated on every element of what we do. We don’t see this as a business. We see this as a passion.

> What is the feeling you want Rooftop Cinema to instill in its visitors, and the experience you want to give them?
It’s a sense of relaxation: people here are chilled. I like the idea of a space you can come to kick back – and I like to think about how we can evoke that feeling of instant relaxation. I think we’ve done that really well. People have a drink and a drink, and are just gob-smacked by the view.

> If Curtin House is a living entity, what part of that entity is the Rooftop Bar and Cinema?
It’s a little bit of everything in this building. This building is the sum of its parts – everyone in this building has in some way shaped this space.
It really has been a collaborative understanding of space, freedom and creativity. You look at every level of this building and Curtin House is the perfect foundation for Rooftop Bar and Cinema – that’s why I like to refer to it as the jewel in the crown.