National

Friends honour slain icon on Bourke Street

By AAP Newswire

Floral tributes outside Pellegrini's Bar in Bourke Street, Melbourne, are growing as friends and admirers of the iconic Italian restaurateur Sisto Malaspina pay their respects.

The well-known 74-year-old was slain by 30-year-old Islamic State-inspired attacker Hassan Khalif Shire Ali on Friday afternoon as he walked down Bourke Street, just a few hundred metres from the business he had run for more than 40 years.

On Saturday two long-time customers-turned-friends of Mr Malaspina sat drinking a glass of wine outside the bar next door, numb that a man who was "like family" was gone.

Margaret Hiatt and Michael Haranis have been regulars at Pellegrini's Bar for decades.

Ms Hiatt was Mr Malaspina's bank manager in the early 2000s and said the bar had become a second home to her.

"It was the atmosphere, the connection, the jokes, the stories," she said of Mr Malaspina's effect on the place.

"It was a particular feeling of being included."

She described Mr Malaspina serving her dessert and then sitting down to eat it with her.

Ms Hiatt described another time when Mr Malaspina described his place at the bar as "my stage" .

"He'd sing or dance or talk. Really just talk."

Mr Haranis said there were many regulars and you never knew who you'd meet.

Actor Russell Crowe tweeted on Saturday that he'd been going to Pellegrini's since 1987.

"Never been to Melbourne without dropping in on the man Sisto," he wrote.

"My sweet loyal friend, stabbed in the street by a mad man. Cosi triste."

Sadly, Mr Haranis said Mr Malaspina had recently become a grandfather and just the other day told him he was "just so excited" to be seeing his granddaughter again soon.

Florists from The Road Stall around the corner delivered a large bunch to the bar, telling AAP Saturday's trade had been non-stop and emotionally heart wrenching as they supplied bouquets to so many who knew and loved Mr Malaspina.

On Saturday patrons and supporters lined up to sign condolences into a visitor's book at the cafe, placing flowers in front of the shop window displaying a large photo of Mr Malaspina.

His staff left an emotive note in the window, calling Mr Malaspina "the best boss".

"You always looked after us like family," the note read.

"You always said to have fun at work because we all worked so hard. Pellegrini's was your life."

Premier Daniel Andrews said Mr Malaspina would be remembered for his life on Bourke Street, not his death.

"A wonderful, wonderful man. I send my love and best wishes to his family."

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also stopped by the cafe to add flowers to the memorial and pay his respects to Mr Malaspina, who was "always good for a chat about politics and Melbourne".

"I'm like most Melburnians, I've been going to Pellegrini's on and off for decades," he later told reporters.

"Pellegrini's, run by Nino and Sisto, always gave the people of Melbourne the sense that we're quite cosmopolitan.

"I was talking to Sisto as recently as last Monday."

Mr Shorten described Mr Malaspina as a "Melbourne icon".

"I can't imagine the random misfortune which put him in the path of this evil wrongdoer."