Being back on Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, for Sisters in Crime’s 30th birthday party on 23 April, was a step back in time for the host, Sue Turnbull, Sisters in Crime’s Ambassador-at-Large. The story of her first event at Leo’s Spaghetti Bar induced much laughter.
It was a dark and stormy night.
No really, it was. In fact, it always seemed to be dark and stormy as I wended my way from outback Melbourne to St Kilda sometime in 1993. But this was the first time I had been invited to Leo’s Spaghetti Bar to do an event for Sisters in Crime and I was early.
I’m always early. A month early for a book launch once. Because, as you know, you never know. How long will it take to find a park? Will it be in the same suburb? Will I find the venue in time? Have I got my notes? As you can probably tell, I might just suffer from performance anxiety.
Anyway, on this first occasion, I managed to locate a park within walking distance and navigate my way to Leo’s Spaghetti Bar, illuminated as it was in red neon which just about penetrated the gloom.
The restaurant was full and noisy and I couldn’t see anyone who looked remotely like a Sister. Just big Italian families hoovering pasta. I approached the bar.
“Sisters in Crime?” I mouthed.
The clearly too-busy-to-bother barman gestured towards the back of the restaurant. I pressed on – up past the fish tanks where the hapless lobsters pensively awaited their fate. Next level – more bustling waiters – more big families.
“Sisters in Crime?” I whispered to a passing plate of spaghetti.
More gesturing towards the back where I could see a dingy corridor. Undeterred, on I pressed.
The kitchen was on the left. There was a lot of steam, a lot of crashing, and a lot of invective. Nothing intelligible. Next up, the women’s toilets which as I came to appreciate were hopelessly inadequate to cope with the restaurant crowd and the Sisters up the back. Last but by no means least, the men’s toilets and another door. It was open.
It was hard to see anything in the darkness. The cigarette smoke swirling at head height was almost impenetrable. Ducking down, I could see a glow towards the back of the room illuminating a table bestrewn with glasses, bottles, and ashtrays. Seated around it was a group of the most ominous-looking bruisers I had ever seen. Immediately, all my anxieties about St Kilda as a den of iniquity were immediately confirmed.
Sensing my intrusion, the bruisers turned as one and stared. I took a hesitant step forward.
“Sisters in Crime?” I quavered.
“Nah love”, said the nearest, “We’re the St Kilda Homicide Squad. You’re up next. We’re just finishing lunch.”
Such was my introduction to the back room at Leo’s Spaghetti Bar, just past the men’s toilets, which for so many years was indeed the spiritual home of Sisters in Crime. And I miss it still.