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52: 21 - Jenny's Milk Bar

Name: Jenny’s Milk Bar
Address: 71 Chomley Street, Prahran
Owners: Jenny and Kevin
Served by: Jenny and Kevin

When Super Tectonics visited this weeks Project 52 it’s like we were in our own hybrid suburban Gen-Y film clip. It had equal parts J-LO’s Jenny from the Block and Kelis’ Milkshake  and for the record – it was an amazing aural flashback. But putting aside American pop culture icons for a moment and Jenny’s Milk Bar in Prahran shows us an amazing Australian Urban Icon – the humble Milk Bar.

So what’s good about Jenny’s Milk Bar?

It’s an old school, for real, Suburban Milk Bar – with a modern multicultural twist. For the non-Melbournians who subscribe to Project 52, the “Milk bar” is something of a phenomenon in Victoria. Living in Brisbane for ten years the closest thing to a Victorian Milk Bar was the corner shop, but in Brisbane they are a few and far between and just not the same. Whereas here in Melbourne – they are an institution with websites, books and photographic exhibitions devoted to chronicling their history and their amazing character. Add to this the fact that they are everywhere and nowhere at the same time, present and standing proud then sprouting up from nowhere – and Jenny’s Milk Bar is exactly the same.

Nestled near a small roundabout in Chomley St, just off the busy High Street, Jenny’s Milk Bar looks exactly the same as all the other Milk Bars out there - brick construction, milk signs out front with the owners living in the house attached out the back. But then, she has her own unique personality with plush green garden, an amazing table display on the footpath, green shadecloth and yes, a Dim Sim sign in the window.

Owners Jenny and Kevin are celebrating their 9th year at Chomley Street next month and that’s what you want from your Milk Bar – familiarity. And based on the six people that dropped by in the half hour on the lazy, wet Sunday we were there, this place is serving the locals well. With a range from canned goods, fresh produce, random house needs, plus nick naks, cigarettes and even caramel skim lattes to keep everyone happy. Yes she’s old and showing her age (the Milk Bar, not Jenny!), but every surface is immaculately clean and it feels like your local – even if it’s your first time.

What’s great about Jenny’s though is how unpretentious it is. You can physically see that the space has evolved over time as the business itself has also grown. It has a perfectly neat layout with great circulation zones. Easy access to the front counter with a small waiting area for takeaway coffees and dim sims. All the product sits on a variety of shelving systems, forming a mish mash of displays that ranging from pine panels, to faux timber laminates and, black plastic coated metal shelves.

The joinery elements within the space, dictate the aisle like flow through the zones and are an eclectic mix of rectangular shapes and forms that build beside one another like Tetris blocks, fitting perfectly alongside, nestled together, somewhat disconnected and jagged at the same time.

At the rear of the shop is a wonderful commercial display fridge, but unlike the cold stainless steel units of today, the warm faux timber laminate surrounds give it great warmth and really anchors the rear of the space so well. There is a great agricultural home made magazine rack  (really it just holds magazines, do magazine racks really need to be more complicated than this?), a wonderful use of white peg board for merchandise display and an amazing faux white lattice placed around the top of the perimeter shelving systems which gives the space an remarkable cost effective textural relief and brings the height of the space down to a cosy level. 

Add to this a creamy authentic Milk Bar logo on the front glazed windows, an undercover-seated area with pot plants, and an overall patina of textures, colours, materials and finishes all showing their age beautifully, and you’ve got yourself one corker of a Milk Bar

What could be better about Jenny’s Milk Bar?

Nothing should be changed inside Jenny’s Milk Bar – EVER. It’s perfect and reminds everyone of his or her childhood and therefore should never be changed.

Our only suggestion to Kevin and Jenny is to invest in some better outdoor furniture. The aluminium setting is cold and uninviting and it would better to get some chairs and tables that are more fitting to the nostalgia of the place.

Also, there is one amazing external blank brick Wall on the side of the Milk Bar that is just SCREAMING for a large painted mural paying homage to the local neighbourhood and referencing the icon that the Milk Bar is. So Kevin and Jenny, how about it? Is a Super Tectonics & Jenny’s Milk Bar collaboration on the cards?

What’s its thing?

Jenny’s Milk Bar is not a “Designed” space, but it is a space that is designed very well.  Rather than being an exercise of POE (Post Occupancy Evaluation) where designers re-visit an environment they have designed to evaluate if it is performing well for the users, Jenny’s Milk bar is an OOE – Ongoing Occupancy Evaluation - and it’s working very well.

Defining Design Details

  • Lighting – it’s great to go to the shops and not be assaulted by bright, white light like you do in the big chains.
  • Raised step platform behind the counter – ergonomics and anthropometrics 101.
  • Indoor climbing plants that have been woven into old Chuppa Chup tins – hello 1980!
  • Kevin’s photography on the pine panelled walls – great photographs by Kevin but, Paris and the snow-capped Alps have nothing on Prahran.
  • It’s a suburban Milk Bar that serves fresh dim sims – how amazing and bloody Australian is that?

So although we visited Jenny’s Milk Bar on a rainy day, Jenny and Kevin and the Milk Bar herself, oozed welcoming warmth. So do this place some justice and the next sunny day swing by for a skim caramel latte, a delicious dim sim and sit out the front watching the suburban world go by, it’s a pretty spectacular view.