Australians love to drink, but Melbournians love to drink differently.
The ten bars listed below in no particular order are the best, must-visit bars that Melbourne has to offer, in my local opinion. How were they chosen?
A lot of drinking in a lot of places. If none appeal to your palate, Melbourne has an enormous range of bars in areas waiting to be explored by curious travellers with a penchant for alcoholic bevvys (Australian for ‘beverages’). These regions include Melbourne’s CBD, Fitzroy, Richmond, Hawthorn, Northcote, South Yarra, St Kilda and various other inner-city suburbs.
In the ‘spirit’ of cocktails, we cannot go further without including the most iconic bar in Melbourne – 1806. I can think of 1806 reasons as to why this bar is so wonderfully famous, but instead let the countless awards the bar has won over the years be an indication. 1806 is the year the first cocktail was defined in print and with handsome bartenders to match the red velvet décor, stepping into this bar is like time-travelling into the 19th century. The atmosphere is both refined and laid back, and reminiscent of the Romantic era, where each cocktail is divided into the period that they originate from. Their recipes are as old as Melbourne is young. And if the menu is too elaborate for light reading, let the bartenders mix up an alcoholic potion based on your personal posh palate. So enjoy a sophisticated night gazing through the mouth-wateringly diverse drinks menu.
Ever wondered what a recreation of a struggling artist’s New York apartment in the Warhol-esque 60s would look like in Melbourne? No? Well even so, 29th Apartment fulfils this image, telling the unique story of street walker by night/abstract artist by day, Katishe. The setting is complete with a bathtub and hotdog stand (the DJ usually sets up on either of these) together with retro booths and a wall-size New York backdrop. And as if that wasn’t enough of a reason enjoy a drink or five here, the bar is home to board games and giant Jenga. As a hotspot for curious travellers, 29th Apartment is situated along Melbourne’s beautiful coastline in St Kilda. It is the perfect place to relax in amongst its quirky atmosphere, or to party in the evening as half the bar is cleared to make room for a dance floor.
Lustre Bar is a romantic and unpretentious escape from the bustling urban business life. As Melbourne’s first cocktail and dessert bar, it hides away overlooking the corner of the iconic Flinders Lane and Centre Place. Priding itself on a relaxed atmosphere where you can talk without yelling and hear without straining, Lustre Bar is the ideal place for a drink and a chat. It sports an art-deco vibe complete with wine glass chandeliers and live jazz on Thursdays. With decently priced drinks that are illuminated by a purple neon bar, a laidback prestige is projected onto Lustre’s guests, no matter who they are.
Crawl into the rabbit hole and visit the surreal, neon world of the Croft Institute. Hidden down a graffiti-splashed laneway in Chinatown, the Croft Institute will greet you with a fast-paced line matching fast-paced music. The bar has two levels, where the first has the theme of an old-school science lab. With an array of laboratory glassware, hopefully used for some alcoholic concoction, the drinks are served with a novelty plastic syringe, so that you can squirt the beverage into your mouth (or onto unruly friends). The upper level has the theme of an abandoned gymnasium, with a trampoline and graffiti on the walls and a real turf bar. On the weekends, the Croft Institute makes way for dancing, and often uses its space for the Melbourne Comedy Festival, product launches, and fashion photo shoots. This bar is not one to shy away from, so plunge into an unforgettable drinking experience at Croft.
What may sound like three words strung together at random is actually a laid back bar floating on the Yarra – the river that meanders through Melbourne. It can only be accessed via the lock bridge that it sits beneath, so it can often pass by unnoticed. With the backdrop of Melbourne’s city skyline and the iconic Southbank opposite, Ponyfish Island is the perfect place to chill out in the summer. Ponyfish Island is open all day, plating up a straightforward menu of food and drinks, all reasonably priced and all very appetising. The bar is named after the elusive creature that has been spotted swimming in the Yarra River. Whether the Ponyfish actually exists is a mystery, but maybe you’ll catch a glimpse while sinking a drink at the bar with its namesake.
Get the full list of Must-Visit bars in Melbourne, Australia here below:
Fall From Grace/State of Grace
Fall from Grace is an example of another hidden bar in Melbourne; however rather than it being concealed in a laneway, it is in the basement of another bar – State of Grace. State of Grace is recognisable as soon as you walk past their window as a (hopefully synthetic) giraffe head on the wall peers back out to you. Visit State of Grace for a quieter and shorter evening. But Fall from Grace is where the excitement lies. The secret entrance to Fall From Grace will take you into a bar with skilled bartenders in bowties serving a bustling crowd. With enormous chandeliers and a quirky art deco décor ranging from hanging books to overhanging mannequin legs, there won’t be a dull or lonely moment.
Naked in the Sky/Naked For Satan
Naked in the sky is as deliriously stimulating as its name suggests. Situated above the iconic bar and restaurant Naked for Satan, Naked in the Sky is its rooftop counterpart that overlooks Brunswick Street, with a spectacular view of Melbourne’s city skyline on the horizon. With devilish pintxos served on platters, and infused vodka tastings, this vodka bar will leave you rosy-cheeked and satisfied in Melbourne’s summer sunlight. Costing one to two Australian dollars, pintxos are slices of fresh bread topped with gourmet food, and are the perfect accompaniment to beer or vodka. The walls of both levels are collaged with retro pictures of naked people. So if your conversation lacks lustre, Naked For Satan provides you with the necessary aesthetics to stimulate the discussion.
There is never a dull moment at the Carlton. With four levels harbouring three different themes, you can party whichever way the night takes you. Their first level, the Carlton, is their decadent main bar. The dimly lit room has a red hue from their scarlet walls and carpet. The floor is often cleared for dancing, but if that isn’t your vibe, a leafy balcony provides the perfect escape. When you enter the surreal second level, Hasti Bala, you’re greeted by a giant elephant head in a green and purple jungle. What appear to be moss-covered stones surround the purple booths, and the walls and ceiling are dripping with shrubbery. The third and fourth levels are the Palmz Rooftop Bars, set up like a beach resort bar. Perfect for a summer escape, these two levels are relaxed and vibrant with conversation. But what makes the Carlton so unique, apart from each level’s design, are there innovative setups. For example, in this festive season they introduced ‘Santa’s House Party’ – a small hallway with different rooms showcasing the inside of a Christmas theme (a gingerbread house, an igloo, a present, a snow globe, and of course a ‘triple X-Mas’) where you can karaoke with a few festive cocktails.
The Brunswick Green
For a bar that doesn’t advertise itself, the Brunswick Green is often considered to be the best bar in Melbourne. It’s home to an array of entertainment, from stand-up comedy to live music from local artists (like dedicated jazz and Latino nights). Situated in the heart of Sydney Road – a shopping street famous for its Mediterranean foundations – this bar is like a homage to retro 70s style, except with more profusion, more stuff. The walls are covered from top to bottom with clogs, plates, signs, paintings, a wetsuit, the list goes on. Yet despite this, it’s difficult to discover a bar with a more relaxed vibe. But the beauty of the Brunswick Green (and possibly where the bar attains its name) is the beer garden. With lush greenery that surrounds the ample seating, the area almost seems like it’s designed to encourage the friendly meeting of strangers. The beer garden is the perfect place to sip on their quality Aussie beer on a sunny afternoon.
Steady those sea legs and let your hair down, this nautical dive-bar is Melbourne’s Best Party Bar of 2014 – according to the Time Out Bar Awards. The Beaufort is like a tavern that awaits bearded sailors lost at sea in desperate need of rum at low cost. But don’t worry if you don’t fit the bill, as long as you arrive in good spirits before you drink their good spirits, you’ll be guaranteed to have a swashbuckling time. The Beaufort is permanently dark, no matter how sunny it is outside. And as your eyes quickly adjust, you’ll be confronted with King Kong behind the bar and plenty of rockabilly sailor paraphernalia. But what really makes this bar so likeable are its drinks and its low prices that are guaranteed to set your liver up for a work out. If drinking and partying aren’t your style, or maybe you just need a break, behind the bar is a delicious concoction of burgers and ribs that will grace your tastebuds at Ike’s Bar and Grill. There’s something for everyone at the Beaufort.
Text by: Anthea Batsakis // Pics by: Daniel Maffei