By Melissa Walsh Photos: Yanni
When The Baths owner, James Gibson, swore that his restaurant would be back after it was ravaged by fire, he wasn’t kidding. Exactly one year and one week after the historic beachfront structure was destroyed; The Baths has reopened better than ever. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the rebuilding of the iconic landmark has taken just on a year to complete and James says it has already been incredibly well received.
“We are open for seven lunches and six dinners and will do seven dinners in January. We are also getting lots of community groups in, corporate groups, and golf groups – and have some weddings booked as well,” he said of the modern Australian restaurant, set on the beach at Sorrento. “The Baths are renowned for our breathtaking views and relaxed atmosphere and whether you’re joining us for dinner after a day on the beach or celebrating a special anniversary, The Baths offers a unique dining experience in a beautiful location.”
As part of the rebuilding process, James says there have been many improvements, none the least is the indoor-outdoor area.
“We have created an indoor-outdoor room which is set up to accommodate about 40 diners with views even better than before,” said James. “And the venue is the ideal place for a wedding. You can get married on the beach and have the reception inside, or have the restaurant as a backup venue for the ceremony. We can do sit-down weddings for 150 and cocktail style for up to 180 people.”
Rich in history, The Baths was named after the Sorrento Sea Baths which were located on the current site in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
“The new building has a lovely, fresh clean feel, which people have described as beach décor. We have a weatherboard exterior with recycled timber posts, timber floor and decks, white and blue interior, marble bar tops and fire place,” said James. “We have also just employed a whole lot of local staff. Our head chef is Chris Jenkins, who came from New Zealand and has cooked all over Australia and the world. It is an approachable menu, with a great kids menu, lots of fish and seafood, and the best gourmet hamburger down this way.”
The Baths’ passionate team of chefs have put together a menu using fresh and seasonal produce to create a variety of exciting yet simple dishes.
“Our chefs can cater for all dietary requirements such as vegetarian or gluten intolerance; just let our wait staff know. The Baths is a family friendly restaurant offering a children’s menu in addition to a la carte,” said James.
The Baths offers an extensive wine list with all different blends of wine by the glass so there is something for everyone to enjoy.
“We have a range of popular varietals and blends, both red and white from a number of vineyards throughout Victoria, expressing true regional characteristics,” said James.
James says another major improvement to the venue is the extensive acoustic plaster to minimise the noise level for customers.
“It is just all part of making the venue as functional and practical as possible for our customers.”
A gift voucher from The Baths can be perfect for a birthday, anniversary, milestone, business gift or a thank you. The gift voucher can be for any amount and redeemable for lunch or dinner and may carry a brief personalised message.
Back in time
In his 1876 Guide to Sorrento, Coppin described ‘The Public Bath’ constructed by his Ocean Amphitheatre Company in 1874-75, as ‘superior to any in the colony’, with its picket enclosure extending into the bay 850 feet, a clean sandy bottom, crystal clear water, safety from large fish, and convenient dressing rooms. Red or white flags showed when it was ladies’ or gents’ time to swim. Men who swam in the nude got into trouble. A single bath with towel cost sixpence, but a monthly ticket was only 5 shillings.
A café at the beach end of the jetty named The Rustic Retreat began to serve light refreshments.
The Manager at that time was Ben Sutton. Later managers included Messrs Ditchburn, Jackson, Erlandsen and Webb.
By the 1930s, hot sea baths and special rooms for sunbathing, springboards and rafts, motor and rowing boats for hire, were all available. In spite of all these attractions, the popularity of ‘bathing paddocks’ like these was to fade with increasing freedom of manners and waning prudery. By the 1970s the baths proper had all but disappeared, and the jetty, with fishermen’s shed half-way along, was gradually falling to pieces. The café and fish and chip shop developed into one restaurant and then another, under different names, altering several times, until only a few traces could be found of the Rustic Retreat and the ticket office for the baths. Under its most recent, and appropriate, name The Baths restaurant became popular for parties and weddings as well as day to day catering … and then, in October last year, a fire caused by an electrical fault destroyed most of the building, and the rest had to be pulled down, spoiling many party plans for the months to come.
The Baths is now rebuilt on the same footprint, and back in business.