Tolarno Boutique Hotel, Bar & Bistro
Of course, the Tolarno
Hotel existed before Georges Mora noticed an advertisement for its sale in 1965,
but who remembers it then? Georges, restaurateur, art gallery owner and curator
and his wife Mirka, the artist, made the bistro and
gallery one of the most famous places in
During World War I, there was severe
persecution of Jewish people in
Eventually, the family came to live in rue
Maitre Albert, on the
Georges Mora (1919-98), former Foreign
Legionnaire, was head of the orphan organisation
that employed Mirka. They met in 1947 in
The Moras arrived here with their young son,
Phillipe in 1951, ‘to tackle a new life’. Badly
advised, they lived first in rural McKinnon. From there, they discovered the
former studios of Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts,
Frederick McCubbin, John
Longstaff, Jane Sutherland and Ola Cohn at 9
Collins Street, into which the decanted and lived happily in the ‘Paris’ end of
Collins Street for 15 years. The building has now been demolished (except for
its facade) and the studios all gone. It was a time when ‘no-one lived in the
city’ and their place became a centre of cultural life in
Mirka made money dressmaking. Sunday Reed commissioned a dress, which lead to a long friendship with John and Sunday and frequent visits to their house, Heide at Bulleen, with its extraordinary circle of artists, their hospitality, entertwined relationships and patronage. The Reeds and Moras built adjoining beach-houses at Aspendale. George worked managing a noodle factory.
In 1954 Mirka and Georges opened the Mirka Café together at 183 Exhibition Street, on the corner of Little Bourke Street, opposite to both Her Majesty’s and the Comedy theatres, and of course then unlicensed.
The Contemporary Art Society was born upstairs
from the café, with Georges Mora as president and John Reed as director in 1954.
It began organising art exhibitions for the Royal Visit of Queen Elizabeth II,
opposed to the official one in the
But two years earlier, the
Mirka Café had hosted provocative exhibitions, and
innumerable parties as Barbara Blackman put it: ‘Georges and
Mirka offered us new sites. They were
happeners, not owners’. Le tout
Success led to a need for larger premises and
a real restaurant, Balzac, at 62
In 1928 (or 1933), a
Moderne rear wing of 29 bedrooms was added, designed by G.G. Cronin, for
the owner S.C. Cronin which substantially all survives. The addition consists of
29 bedrooms, a larger dining room and kitchen. The house was renamed after the
Tolarno Station, a pastoral property south of
Menindee, on the
The Modernist six bedroom wing and the present restaurant were added to the Victorian house on its former front garden and croquet lawn, purportedly in the 1940s, although they appear to be of the 1960s, just before Georges Mora bought it. Building commercial premises in the front garden of former mansions is a frequently recurring St Kilda pattern (18).
The Moras converted the rear dining room into
the art gallery, the family lived in rooms on the first floor and the restaurant
was on the left of the lobby, as it still is. Mirka
used the hotel’s bridal suite as her studio. The Moras built a new kitchen and
toilets at the rear. Mirka painted the murals on
the walls and with the young artist Martin Sharp from
A second gallery was opened at the rear, next to the kitchen. Eventually, the management of the hotel became too onerous for the Moras and it was sold. The Mora bedrooms and studio moved to the basement.
A series of remarkable art exhibitions were
held at Tolarno. The Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly series
was shown there. All the brilliant men and women of
In 1970, the Moras’ marriage crumbled
(although when Georges died, Mirka said their
relationship had lasted 51 years). Mirka moved into
In the late 1970s,
Tolarno was sold to Leon Massoni and his
wife. The Tolarno, (St Kilda) Gallery continued as
United Artists Co-operative, under Anna Schwartz (Weiss) and
Luba Bilu. Later, both
left, Luba opened a gallery in
Georges built a remarkable new pink
Tolarno gallery in
In a later gesture to St Kilda,
Mirka completed a wonderful mosaic for the pavilion
on St Kilda Pier (1) based on the view in that direction, from her house
In 1999, a major retrospective of her art
throughout her life was held appropriately at Heide
Museum of Modern Art (9), the Reeds’ former house. In
2000 her autobiography, Mirka Mora.
Wicked but Virtuous. A Life was lavishly
published. In 2001,
In December 1954, the
Mirka Café was the first in
In each of these ways,
Mirka and Georges were pioneers of so much that have since become normal,
if not a deluge, in Melbourne’s and St Kilda’s
culinary and cultural life. The particularly Australian word ‘identity’ could
have been coined just for someone as quirky, idiosyncratic,
pioneering and always surprising as Mirka. Above
all, she is a much-loved
Barbara. ‘The Good Ship Mora:
Graeme. ‘The secret life of
Australian Unlimited. George
Brown – May,
The Story of the Camera in
Charles Blackman. Portrait of William Mora. 1956 Collection: William Mora.
Delaney, Max &
Mirka Mora. Where
Angels Fear to Tread. 50 Years of Art. 1948-1998.
Licensed Real Estate Agents,
Lewis, Sally. Ed. 25th Anniversary, The Age Good Food Guide. The Age Company Ltd, Melbourne 204, pp22 & 68.
Longmire, Anne. St Kilda: The Show Goes On. Hawthorn 1989. pp 225 & 226.
Jan. Conversation with Richard Peterson,
Mora, Mirka. Mirka Mora. Wicked but Virtuous. My Life. Viking, Ringwood 2000.
Mora, Mirka, Love and Chatter. Viking, Camberwell 2003.
Henri. Scènes de la vie
Bohème. Hamish Hamilton.
‘Dining Out’ Herald
Davison Graeme, Delaney, Max,
St Kilda City Council. Building approval no. 8348. 1933.
& Heathcote, Christopher.
Wood, Stephanie & Forrell, Claude. The Age Good Food Guide 2002. The Age. Melbourne 2001, p110.