The odd thing, for a place with such a punchy name, is how understated it is. Not far from the corner of Smith and Johnston Streets, in the 'hood of the illustrious Tote, 99 Problems lies among an unassuming strip of Collingwood. There are lots of unusual places nearby - ranging from African, Czech and Greek food to quirky stores spruiking bicycles, retro eyewear, and mannequins - and although many are full or on their way, there is a quiet buzz about the area, as though a parade of hipsters has just passed through, leaving behind only the ultra-committed and genuinely non-caring cool.
Hiding under an awning labelled with something else, it can be easy to overlook the brown-gold lettering on the window that identifies the bar. But once you know it's opposite Jim's Greek, it's easy to find. Inside, it's basically one long venue with a front and back room, and a tiny bar at the end. On one side, you'll find a doorway which leads to the courtyard: essentially a carport spruced up with moody lighting and a few pots. The bench seating inside is custom-made, and wall murals feature vast mountain scenes - kinda like what you'd find in your great-uncle's rumpus room, but a bit more arty and funky. The overall impression is very simple, but cool. Given the limited space, it makes sense there's not a huge menu, but there is enough choice of beverages to please everyone.
I'm not sure I could spend hours at 99 Problems. I enjoy its detached cool feeling, but I feel like I'm always looking around, expecting something else to happen. Perhaps this pocket of Collingwood is just too quiet for my tastes.
Having said that, 99 Problems is a handy venue when you want to go to Jim's Greek Tavern (32 Johnston Street, Collingwood), and can't get in immediately. Or for drinks after dinner. I don't discriminate.
I'm not much of a Greek authority. I don't like olives; I don't understand why people would smash perfectly good plates; and I grew up eating Chinese cuisine as a treat. So I couldn't tell you how Jim's Greek scores against tradition or its competition. But, in the half-dozen or so times I've been there, I've always enjoyed Jim's food.
Much like its Italian contemporary, Pellegrini's, Jim's has been around for decades and is staffed mainly by middle-aged gentlemen. Fortunately for Jim's, its staff members generally have a much more pleasant demeanour than Pellegrini's. Even if they are rushing, they will take time to respond to your queries, and often smile while doing so!
There is house wine available by the carafe - but a word of the wise: BYO if you possibly can. It's passable, but only just. On the upside, the bread is delicious!
Jim's doesn't seem to have menus. Every time I've been, they have simply clarified verbally what the table would like as a whole. The menu generally goes something like this:
- Dips, bread, and antipasto-type stuff like grilled capsicum and olives
- Fried saganaki (yummmmm)
- Calamari and/or octopus
- Greek salad
- Lamb skewers & fillets
- Desserts - Baklava & Galactoboureko (try and say that ten times fast)
You can usually request or deny certain dishes - or just tell them when you're full and want to stop!
It's pretty no-frills, but tasty and cheap. The venue is quite massive, stretching from the street-front to a huge back room. It can mean a lot of white noise, but that seems to suit the atmosphere and cuisine. It can also be hard to flag down a waiter, but be persistent!
I can see how Jim's Greek might grate on a lot of patrons' nerves, but I have a great time every time I go, and always leave full and happy. Try it if you get a chance.