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.
East China Trading Company
Handmade dumplings and handcrafted cocktails: two of life’s great pleasures, yet Melbourne hasn’t been good at putting them in the same room. Until now! The folks behind Golden Monkey bar give you the best of both worlds upstairs at East China Trading Company.
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.
Beneath Driver Lane
Hidden behind the iconic GPO and down – you guessed it – Driver Lane, enter a discrete doorway to find a world of blues, cocktails, French bar food and delightful wines. Open from 4pm to 3am daily, Beneath Driver Lane isn’t one to miss for the night owls among us.
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-serviced 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.
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.
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 toes the line between cosy and intimate.
One of the city’s most renowned chefs, Guy Grossi, has opened up the potential of the laneway behind his restaurant. Arlechin, his new 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?
Just off Bourke Street, Madame Brussels has a reputation for knowing how to party. There are plenty of places to settle into, from the indoor gardens to the terrace and cosy upstairs parlour. Jugs are the way to play, with both classic combinations and cheekier mixes. The ‘gin garden’ with London dry gin, fresh cucumber, elderflower cordial, apple juice and soda is refreshing.
Look out for the street art portrait of Kimmy K and you’ll find another famous sister — Sister Bella. You may have to weave past a few garbage bins. Inside the cosy, rustic bar, you can purchase winter drinks including mulled wine.
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.
Long-term laneway resident The Croft Institute needs no introduction. Choose from a range of cocktails or ask the bartender to make something up.
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.
Tucked into high-walled Warburton Lane, you’ll have heard whispers of Murmur Piano Bar. This vintage speakeasy is scattered with leather chairs, open brick and framed art. Spanish-inspired tapas including smoky grilled meat, and charcuterie boards are flavour-packed nibbles. There’s a compact list of wines, spirit and local and imported beers, but cocktails are the highlight.