The Merrywell:

Cnr of Clarendon Street & Crown Riverside, Melbourne VIC
(03) 9292 7468 or

Launched in April, The Merrywell has seen the Las Vegas-based forces of Scottish born Grant MacPherson and New York-Italian Sam DeMarco rise to the challenge posed by Melbourne’s food and bar obsessed culture, creating a relaxed and multifaceted venue with an emphasis on quality. The philosophy behind The Merrywell stems, in part, from Sam DeMarco’s remarkable career, which sees him opening his first restaurant in New York City when he was 29 years old. “I got tagged as ‘the chef of the chefs’, with a lot of restaurateurs coming to my restaurant, because it was a late night, fun environment. Ironically, I always wanted to cook much more high-end food but I got stereotyped as the ‘king of casual’, and so I stuck with it.”


For Sam, having integrity, using top quality ingredients and creating a holistic concept is the key to providing a casual drinking and dining experience that stands out from the crowd. “I cook for the people and I love what I do. But what I really love now are concepts and building and development. I’ve realised that once you’re a chef who owns a restaurant, there are so many other aspects that you have to be concerned with. Everything that touches a person’s experience when they come through the door has to be right: the music, the ambience, the textures and graphics, and then, on top of that, the service and the food.” Both Sam and Grant MacPherson have been involved with the creation of The Merrywell from the bottom up, working closely with the architects, Mills Gorman, with Crown, and drawing on their extensive pool of contacts in the world of hospitality to manage the venue. Described recently on Channel Ten’s The Circle as a ‘rock star chef’, Grant’s illustrious career adds to the global status of The Merrywell, where a range of influences are evident in the food and drinks menu, the interior design and the overall vibe of the place. Sam DeMarco relishes the partnership with Grant, which has proven so successful that they are now in the process of setting up a Merrywell-styled venue in Perth. “This partnership with Grant is new, but we’ve known each other for many years. Back in 1998 I opened The Bellagio in Las Vegas with him — he was the executive chef of the whole complex. Grant has always run multiple venues – the chef of many chefs. And I have more of an independent feel, so we’re kind of a unique partnership; independent chef meets high-end glamour chef! But this has created some really great networks for us. “Grant and I always wanted to do something together but there wasn’t really the platform for us. We needed something amazing, and Australia has offered us that, particularly with Crown as the umbrella to operate under. So this was the right spot, the right time, and we’re really happy to be part of the Melbourne food scene. We love the ingredients, the culture, the people — it’s very exciting being part of that.”


Sitting upstairs at The Merrywell on a mild autumn day and looking out at the familiar but always striking view along the river to the city, it’s interesting to get Sam’s perspective on Melbourne’s particular historical relationship with food. “What we do here at Merrywell is our interpretation of what we see. There are so many similarities to New York, and America generally, because of the many different cultural and ethnic influences. But here it’s closer to it, because America is now fifth and sixth generation of Italian American, for example. Here, you really see the different ethnic flavours, as you’re closer to it historically and geographically, so we’ve been enjoying that.” The Merrywell project has been a massive effort on Sam and Grant’s behalf (including multiple long hauls between Las Vegas, Melbourne and now Perth), and for Crown, which has taken a leap into something quite distinct from its other venues and from the previous occupant of the Clarendon Street/Southbank corner. While the casino is within easy reach of Merrywell, the focus of the venue is definitely on its place in the hustle bustle of riverside life, drawing on tourists, an after work or sporting event crowd, or locals seeking respite from their hunger pangs after a big night out.


The food and interior are in conversation, with a quirky, comfortable and warm décor that mixes with the downstairs take on the burger and fries or the upstairs take on what Sam calls ‘alternative dining’. “We’re still fine tuning what we do, in response to what people are saying or whether things work or don’t. When you open a restaurant you have a concept — it’s what we envision. But then once you have the launch, it’s the people’s restaurant and it’s really what they interpret about what you thought. So we’re always going to evolve and create some fun stuff, and keep hitting the ball higher and raising the bar.” “Although we’re going under the label of a ‘gastro pub’, there are a lot of different ethnic and cultural flavours. So I say to people, ‘you tell us what we are’. Based on what I’ve been reading about The Merrywell, there are American influences, and that’s always interesting, hearing what people are saying. But we’re having fun, and we’re keen to become an important part of the Melbourne food and pub community.” Sophie Gebhardt

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