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Political circus arrives at Pellegrini’s as cafe reopens after Bourke Street attack

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First came the crowds of mourners. Then came the politicians and a media circus.

The iconic Italian Melbourne institution Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar reopened on Tuesday morning, following the tragic death of its much-loved co-owner Sisto Malaspina, who was killed in a terror attack last week.

The 74-year-old died and two other men were injured when when Hassan Khalif Shire Ali, 30, set a ute on fire and went on a knife rampage in Bourke Street.


Outside Pellegrini’s, long-time patrons and well-wishers queued to sign condolence books, as bouquets of flowers stretched 30 metres down a laneway.

Customers queue to enter Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar as it reopens to the public on Tuesday.

Floral tributes to Sisto Malaspina lean against Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar as customers queue to sign condolence books. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/AAP

A schoolgirl cried into the arms of her friend, and Italian friends shared their memories of the great man.

Inside, staff bustled about serving free cups of long black coffees – Malaspina’s favourite drink.

At the far end of the cafe, Malaspina’s usual stool stood empty while a long black coffee and a single red rose sat atop a copy of a newspaper with his smiling face on the front cover. A white candle burned beside it.

But the poignant scene didn’t last long.

The Victorian opposition leader, Matthew Guy, and the prime minister, Scott Morrison, soon dropped by with a huge press pack of television crews, reporters and photographers in tow.

The prime minister ordered a flat white and expressed sympathies to staff and co-owner, Nino Pangrazio.

“We’ve all got to find our Sisto smiles; that’s the best message we can send,” Morrison said.

“It’s very humbling to be here, just listening to the stories of Sisto. There are so many people here, celebrating a life well lived regardless of how violently and terribly it was taken.”

Morrison later denied he was politicising a tragedy by campaigning for the Victorian state election at a site of mourning.

“I’m not. I’m here to pay my respects and talk to the very issues that took place right here in this street,” he said.

People pay their respects to Sisto Malaspina while drinking a long black coffee inside Pellegrini’s on Tuesday.

A customer pays respect to Sisto Malaspina with a long black coffee – the late co-owner’s favourite drink. Photograph: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Fifty metres up the road during a press conference with Morrison, Guy didn’t miss the opportunity to talk up his party’s tough-on-crime policy.

“We’ll make sure those who commit crime are appropriately punished, that first responders, who are protecting us, have every method at their disposal to keep us safe,” Guy said.

Asked if Guy could win the election Morrison responded: “I really hope he does, because it’s what Victoria needs and not just on issues of law and order.

“He’s got a vision for Victoria as a lifelong Melbournian – the heart and soul of Melbourne beats in him as well … I think he’d do an outstanding job and I’m thrilled to be here with him today.”

Cafe patron, Ian Kelly, didn’t think the pair’s visit was in good taste.

“They can’t help themselves, can they?” he told the Guardian Australia.

Janet Stockley, who was also waiting to sign the condolence book, agreed.

“It’s inappropriate,” she said.

Nonetheless, Pangrazio said he was grateful for the politicians’ whirlwind visit.

“It was great honour, for me and also a great honour in the rememberance of Sisto,” he said. “Both of them had very kind words.”

Customers drink coffee inside Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar.

Customers drink coffee inside Pellegrini’s as it reopens to the public on Tuesday. Photograph: Daniel Pockett/AAP

Guy regularly frequents the cafe, because state parliament is not far away on Spring Street, Pangrazio said.

The federal opposition leader, Bill Shorten, visited the cafe on Saturday while it was still closed, to sign the condolence book.

“[Sisto is] a Melbourne icon and a true gentleman. Impossible to imagine the devastation for his family and staff,” Shorten said on Instagram.

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