Roger Federer ate lunch here for a week during The Davis Cup in the 1990s and the bartender who turned down an invitation to have coffee with him still rues the day. Read on for more amazing stories from this bar's history as we reveal the heavy hitters investing in its future.
The new Aces Pizza and Liquor will revitalise an Adelaide Central Market icon
Aces Bar and Bistro in the Adelaide Central Market has always been well connected to the movers and shakers in Adelaide.
Enzo Fantasia shuffles past the construction site detritus piled up on the floor of the bar he joined 26-odd years ago. In his arms he carries a folder, and on top of that, a piece of paper filled with his handwriting: notes on two decades.
Aces Pizza & Liquor
Central Market Plaza
62-72 Gouger St Adelaide
He and son Andrew spent some time last night going through the rich and varied history of that bar you walk past between the food courts and the Market proper.
“It was Greg Griffin’s brainchild, really,” says Enzo name-dropping the South Australian lawyer. “He said, ‘Make it a sports bar’ – then Darren Cahill came on board.”
The name, Aces, is a play on words Enzo tells us.
It was about punting and gambling, but also about tennis and sport. Darren Cahill was still playing tennis when Aces opened but due to a significant knee injury, needed a job while he recovered. Aces filled the gap between playing and coaching tennis star Lleyton Hewitt, Enzo says.
“Coached him to his first Grand Slam, didn’t he?” Andrew seeks to clarify.
“Then he [Darren] got approached by Andre Agassi,” says Enzo, “to be his coach, and he made him Number One again.”
“We’re hoping he’ll be here at the opening,” says Andrew.
Currently closed for intensive renovations, Aces Bar and Bistro is slated to re-open in October 2019 as Aces Pizza & Liquor, in what could be the venue opening of the year.
And while the bar has been graced by some big names – it’s current owners are no slouches either.
Enzo Fantasia launched Caffe Buongiorno on Rundle Street in 1991, a significant milestone in Rundle Street’s golden ‘café era’ featuring plenty of scooped froth cappuccinos. Enzo’s son, Andrew founded his second wine label (his first Two Italian Boys) Hustle & Vine 18 months ago.
2019 marks the point at which Andrew takes the Aces reigns from Enzo and looks to completely re-invent the hospitality side of the business. And helping him realise that vision is none other than House of Organics and Golden Boy’s James Hillier.
“We’ve known James Hillier for many years,” says Andrew. Enzo nods.
“He started his career in his early 20s working for House of Organics, and then he actually ended up buying the business. All throughout that time he and the House of Organics staff – this was sort of the late 90s, what we call ‘the Bronx era’ – he would come in to watch the footy after work with his crew. Aces was just that communal tavern for Market traders,” says Andrew.
James owned House of Organics for 20 years and has always maintained a strong connection to the Adelaide Central Market.
“We had a few chats and because [James] was attached to the Markets and he saw the passion and the realness we had as a family – and his passion to also to do something Italian – it didn’t take much to convince him.”
Since then Africola’s Duncan Welgemoed has been attached to the project as executive chef, consulting on the kitchen. Aces Pizza and Liquor will be Duncan’s first Italian menu and Andrew says early testing has proven Duncan’s mettle.
“It’s really, really exciting. He’s a legend,” says Andrew. “We had Duncan at my dad’s older sister’s house for dinner the other night and he just loved it. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how famous or high-end you get – it’s the simple things that really make an impact.”
Aces Pizza & Liquor will re-animate a part of the Adelaide Central Markets that’s been longing for new energy. Design firm UFO Agencies will deliver a new interior that incorporates the existing timber aesthetic. The parquetry floor with its iconic series of ace playing cards will be lovingly restored in what Andrew tells us is probably one of the largest costs of the renovation.
Booth seating will fill the rear of the restaurant and certain parts of the bar will be removed to fit a larger pizza oven into the kitchen. The focus of Aces Pizza and Liquor is obviously in the name, but Andrew says service will make the whole operation hang together.
“We want to seat and serve people their food within 15 minutes, we need the workers around here, people from the courts, to know they can rely on us to get them their food quickly, and we’re investing a lot in the kitchen to enable us to cater for this,” says Andrew.
There will be a renewed emphasis on evening trading between Thursday and Saturday nights. Aces’ back entrance will give the public access to the Central Market Plaza after hours and Andrew’s hopeful this excites the city’s diners.
“You walk down a deserted strip mall, you go through the back entrance, it gives it that Goodfellas look and feel. It could become a bit of a thing. We hope so anyway. We want to build a reputation for good service and good food,” says Andrew.
“We thought it was the right time to really give Aces new life. We’re very emotionally attached here to the place and its surroundings.”
And it shows.
On the precipice, and about to dive into a hectic schedule of renovations, the massive re-investment into Aces is a big deal for the Fantasia family. Enzo takes us through the incredible dot points on his piece of paper – about how he employed both Michael Wilson (Port Power) and Brent Williams (Crows) behind the bar at Aces as a favour for both clubs.
He shows us a photo of George Negus – whom he calls a friend – and tells us how a young Swiss tennis player came into the bar for lunch every day for a week with his coach, which turned out to be Roger Federer.
The connections to Aces Pizza and Liquor run deep and across international borders and sporting codes.
We’re looking forward to seeing who comes to its re-opening!
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