Melburnians cherish the thrill of an ordinary lane, dark alley or stairwell opening up to a reveal a hidden gem. Grab some friends, nab a table and enjoy an evening in one of these cosy watering holes.
One of the city’s most renowned chefs, Guy Grossi, has opened up the potential of the laneway behind his restaurant. Arlechin, his late-night bar hidden down Mornane Place, is an intimate space with a subterranean atmosphere. Pop by for a quick drink at the marble bar, or settle in with one of their delicious bar snacks. But what to choose: an Italian or Australian red with the bolognaise jaffle?
East China Trading Company and Golden Monkey
Handmade dumplings and handcrafted cocktails are two of life’s great pleasures, yet Melbourne hasn’t been good at putting them in the same room. Until now! Have the best of both worlds upstairs at East China Trading Company, or pop downstairs through velvet curtains, for the romance, mystery and decadence of sister bar, Golden Monkey. Part opium den, part Shanghai 1920s nightspot, bao and dumplings are available all night long.
A barely-signed bar hiding on Crossley Street (ironically, there’s not a lane in Melbourne named Romeo), Romeo Lane is small and intimate. Cocktails that span the spectrum of the rainbow rotate regularly. Tell the bartender what you like, and they’ll point you in the right direction. Small, tapas-style plates including cheese and terrine are on offer.
It doesn’t get more Melbourne than a renovated car park-turned bar. A double storey, industrial spot with wall height murals, Whitehart is effortlessly modern. A craft beer and cocktail-focused drinks menu is complemented by nibble-able snacks like peanuts and lupini beans.
One of the city’s original cool bars, Punch Lane now has a little sister down in the basement, Juliet Melbourne. She’s also a sophisticated lady focused on fine wine and food, but her style is more retro-industrial. Think whitewashed brick walls, exposed pipes and 60s leather sofas. Then think about that menu of small plates. Fancy some choice raclette and a ridiculously good red, or decadent desserts with classic cocktails? Strictly a late-week-evening venue, with live jazz on Thursdays.
StoryVille is another new bar inspired by the classics. Step inside and wander through your childhood – with a glass of something 18+ in hand of course. The decor is borne of fairytales and fables: giant glowing toadstools, big old gnarly tree branches and super-sized book spines. As for what’s in your glass, choose your own adventure from both youthful and adult reading. Will you get that magical Harry Potter feeling with a Polyjuice, or finally taste the Moloko Plus from A Clockwork Orange?
A split-spaced bar divided into East and West parts of Cold War Germany, Berlin Bar is undoubtedly unique. To keep you entertained, there’s a wine, beer and creative cocktail list. The ‘Angela Merkel’ is a citrus-packed vodka, triple sec and elderflower cocktail finished with sugared rum. Nibbles including pomme frites (French fries) and cheese plates will keep you going through the night.
Glamp Cocktail Bar
A two-level venue with a fully-service restaurant and indoor ‘glamping’ tent, Glamp Cocktail Bar has it all. Savouring African-inspired cuisine at downstairs Polepole Bar is a clever choice, but if you’re gunning for the cocktail lounge, try the savoury cigars. Rich, herbed fillings are rolled in Tunisian brik pastry and flavoured with edible ash. There’s a small wine and spirits list along with cocktails.
Loch & Key
A cabin-themed bar above Captain Melville, Loch & Key has plenty of nooks and crannies to lock yourself into. The outdoor balcony terrace is a highlight, along with the boutique list of cocktails, wine and beer.
Murmur Piano Bar
Tucked into high-walled Warburton Lane, you’ll have heard whispers of Murmur Piano Bar. This vintage speakeasy serves up live music, inventive cocktails and authentic Spanish tapas. There’s a compact list of wines, spirit and local and imported beers, but cocktails are the highlight.
Located above Longrain in a former 19th century horse stable, Longsong is an inviting space lit by flickering lanterns hanging from the vast, exposed ceilings. Make for the large central bar for casual seating, fine wines and spirits from regional producers. Choose from an array of ever changing sharing plates licked by flames on the woodfire grill. Influenced by Thai cooking, the food is thought-provoking and moreish.
An extensive drinks list extends to all corners of Japan at Hihou. Hot shochu, sake, plum wine, cocktails and Japanese beer and whiskey abounds. An unmistakably Japanese-inspired bar with touches of concrete and pale wood, Hihou walks the line between cosy and intimate.
From the makers of Section 8 comes Ferdydurke. Adjacent on Tattersalls Lane, Ferdydurke is the lofty, upstairs yin to Section 8’s banging, outdoors yang. Get cosy by the fire and try a classy cocktail, with a refreshingly simple snack menu. Go the gourmet hot dog, cheeseburger or toastie, or share a Brooklyn Board with smoked and cured meats, house pimiento cheeses, pickles and toasted bread.
House of Correction
Previously a grim medical supplier, House of Correction was never going to be a standard bar. The venue’s theme is a nod to the building’s colourful past, with padded booths and mustard colours. The drinks menu rotates every four weeks, along with tap beer and a small wine selection.
It’s standing room only at Bar Americano. Pint-sized and proudly European, there’s classic Aperitivo alongside bitter Americano coffee. Wander along Presgrave Place post-cocktail and admire the miniature gallery featuring small-framed artworks.
The Emerald Peacock
From the similarly colourfully plumed owners of Red Hummingbird comes sister venue The Emerald Peacock. A decadent interior with plush soft furnishings, bold wallpapers and ornate decorative motifs offers intimate booths and a luxurious lounge, with a separate upstairs bar. Don’t miss the rooftop bar for magical views of the city lights at night.
Being a sophisticated, global city, Melbourne has a lot of bars. You want it old school today but box fresh tomorrow? Can do.
New kids on the block
Every relationship needs to keep things spicy, so stoke the flames of passion with new bars to try this weekend. Named after Thor’s mighty hammer, Mjolner Melbourne will finally give you the chance to drink mead out of a horn. Gawp at Natural History’s fit-out featuring $25,000 worth of taxidermied animals, presented in old-fashioned museum-style dioramas. Punch Lane’s just added the mezze-laden Bar Saracen boasting the hospitality pedigree of Rumi and The Moor’s Head. Beneath Driver Lane, tucked behind the iconic GPO and down – you guessed it – Driver Lane, is a subterranean world of blues, cocktails, French bar food and delightful wines.
For midweek catch ups, (cue Cheers theme-song), there are times when only the familiar warmth of an old friend will do. These are the classic Melbourne bars for your bucket list, the ones that rewrote the rules and reinvented after-dark culture. From long-term laneway resident The Croft Institute to terrace bar with a twist Madame Brussels, via peak Melbourne permanent pop-up Section 8, to 20 years veteran the Gin Palace, you’re on safe ground here.