An iconic Melbourne restaurant visited by international sports stars and notorious underworld figures for nearly half a century will close its doors this weekend.
Cafe Notturno has been a popular Italian cafe and late-night institution along Carlton’s famous Lygon Street restaurant district for Melburnians and visitors for 45 years.
Former F1 star Michael Schumacher, AFL legend Gary Ablett Sr and gang figures Tony Mokbel and the late Mark ‘Chopper’ Read are among the millions who drank and dined at the restaurant affectionately nicknamed ‘Notties ‘.
Café Notturno will serve its last guests this Sunday evening after the premises were recently sold to new owners who plan to turn the place into an Indian restaurant.
Co-owner Salvatore Cultrera confirmed the news in a lengthy statement on the cafe’s Facebook page on Monday.
Cafe Notturno, aka Notties, has been a Lygon Street institution for 45 years
It’s the end of an era for Cafe Notturno co-owner Salvatore Cultrera and his team
“We want to inform you that Cafe Notturno has been sold and will no longer be marketed as we have all known and loved it since 1978,” Mr. Cultrera wrote.
“45 years of love, friendship, family and full of fantastic memories.”
Mr Cultrera had worked there for 10 years before he and a cousin took over the reins in 2003.
It was also at Notties that Mr Cultrera first met his wife Linda 33 years ago.
He cited “street parties, the soccer World Cup and the Euros successfully in 1982, 2006 and more recently in 2020 thanks to Covid” as his fondest memories.
“What an amazing experience,” he said.
“I will miss Notties so much, but also be very excited for what’s next for me and my family.”
Mr. Cultrera also wished good luck to the new tenants for the future.
The news sparked a wave of tributes from Notties fans, some of whom have been visiting since 1978.
“Notturno was a place where I met the friends I have today, the coffees and pizzas after a night out at the discos in the 1980s, it was a home away from home,” wrote one customer.
The Notturno cafe was a home not only for customers but also for staff (pictured)
Another added: An institution for Melburnians and especially for the Italian community as a whole. Sad to see you go!
Others said Lygon Street would never be the same again.
Former staff also paid their respects.
“It was a great pleasure to work with you, good memories, they will remain forever in my heart”, recalls a woman.
It played a big role in my life, I wouldn’t have my 2 beautiful children, Allegra and Dante if it wasn’t for Café Notturno where I met their father 21 years ago and also where I made wonderful friendships with whom I am still very close today.
Mr. Cultrera told the sun herald it was a good time to sell so he could spend more time with his family, including his new grandson.
He listed some of his favorite and most famous diners.
“Chopper Read used to do a late night radio show nearby and then eat at Notties,” Mr Cultrera said.
“The Ferrari team, including Michael Schumacher, often dined here during Formula 1.”
Mr Cultrera also has fond memories of regular shopper gang figure Alphonse Gangitano sneak behind the counter to make his own coffee if he didn’t know the barista.
“Tony Mokbel also often had lunch here and other members of the Carlton Crew,” he added.
Melbourne’s iconic dining strip known as Little Italy has struggled in recent years as the Covid pandemic and soaring rents force long-running restaurants and cafes to close shop.
Since the 1950s, Lygon Street in Carlton has been synonymous with Italian cuisine, its bustling restaurants, bars, cafes and beer gardens having become a second home for hundreds of Italians who migrated to Melbourne after World War II.
The famous strip also holds the record for being the first place to install an espresso machine in Australia and is considered the birthplace of ‘Aussie’ pizza.
Notties was always packed with diehard Italian football fans during the World and European Cups
Cafe Notturno will serve its end customers this Sunday, August 27