Even in mid-summer, this city’s weather doesn’t always cooperate for drinks by the water or on a rooftop. These subterranean drinking dens will keep you smiling come rain, hail or (too much) shine.
Once you descend the stairs to Bar Clara, it’s easy to forget you’re in Chinatown. Glimpsed from street level, this is a sleek space of plush emerald upholstery, sharply dressed bartenders and seasonal craft cocktails. Put their signature sweet-and-sour banoffee cocktail on your tippling bucket list.
The folks behind two of Melbourne’s coolest bars, Heartbreaker and The Everleigh, have wowed us all over again with Bar Margaux. Walk down some dull stairs to discover this Paris-via-New-York-Meatpacking-district-inspired late-night venue oozing vintage style. Think black-and-white tiles, zinc-topped bar, red-leather banquettes and custom light fixtures. The menu features French bistro classics like duck frites and souflés that pair nicely with sophisticated drinks like Champagne and craft cocktails.
Established in 1997, Gin Palace was among the pioneers of Melbourne’s bar renaissance, and years ahead of the gin curve. An underground lair leaning toward Great Gatsby glamour, there’s still no better place to play with this beguiling spirit. From a simple, classic Gin Rickey to complex contemporary cocktails, it’s where gin dreams come true.
Fall from Grace at State of Grace
Resurrected on King Street a year ago, State of Grace feels like it’s been there forever thanks to the vintage decor, chandeliered splendour and speakeasy eccentricity. The vibe dials up in the basement bar, Fall from Grace. Old-timey sofas, lamps and ephemera, plus good-value pizzas, make this a great place to chill.
Beneath Driver Lane
A subterranean space of bare-brick walls and parquetry floors, Beneath Driver Lane wears Melbourne’s love for hidden laneway bars on its sleeve. Whiskey dominates the classy collection of spirits, but you’ll also find less familiar cousins like absinthe and pisco. Cocktails offer a smart take on American classics and include choose-your-own-adventure nitro martinis. Bites favour meat and cheese, like charcuterie and raclette toasties.
Sydney’s Viking-themed restaurant-bar proved so popular that they opened an outpost down south last year. Named after Thor’s mighty hammer, Mjolner Melbourne gives you the chance to finally drink mead out of a horn. Other tipples include Scandinavian-influenced cocktails and numerous whiskies, and food’s suitably meaty, all enjoyed among tasteful Norse-themed decor below street level. Skol!
The George On Collins
Do you remember when this space was the lower level of the exclusive Georges department store? Today, it’s home to a chic bar and all-day dining room that demands your attention. Strike a pose with an artful cocktail, or kick back with your choice from the extensive whisky selection while pondering bites by a popular Masterchef contestant at The George On Collins
Trinket’s cellar bar
The main bar on Trinket’s street level is bright, sleek and full of vintage-inspired glamour. In the basement, however, you’ll find a more dimly lit bar made for secret rendezvous. How do you get there? Follow the lead of those young adventurers in Narnia and open the wardrobe. Push back the clothes hangers, step inside and down the stairs to treats much more mature than the White Witch’s Turkish delight. Like The Gem cocktail – perfect for this hidden cellar bar.
Enjoy a Stranger Things-inspired night out, without the malevolent monster, at Bartronica, where arcade games and adult refreshments unite. But first, you’ve got to find that obscure door leading down some stairs to this basement packed with classic machines. They rotate, so you might find yourself high scoring on Street Fighter or a Daytona racing simulator. Plus there’s a life-size Mario Tunnel leading to a dedicated Mario Kart room. As the little Italian speedster says, let’s-a go!
Inspired by opium dens and 1920s Shanghai nightclubs, Golden Monkey’s subterranean space is all dim lighting and lattice screens that hide and reveal. What better place for a romantic rendezvous? Whether you and your little China girl or boy are sipping Asian beers or Asian-inspired cocktails, it goes down nicely with the all-night dumplings and bao. Ganbei!
The Mill House Bar
Make another Flinders Lane discovery downstairs in the surprisingly large space that is The Mill House Bar. Come for drinks, and be surprised all over again when you’re still there hours later, chowing down on burgers, pizzas and homemade empanadas. Then throw Plan A under the bus by dancing until 3am.
More underground action
With lots of little Mexican bites, and a tequila- and mezcal-fuelled drinks list, you decide whether the lively and colourful Bodega Underground is an eatery or bar. Like her big sister Punch Lane upstairs, is Juliet Melbourne a wine bar or a wine-friendly restaurant? Give it some thought over a glass or two. The Moat Bar & Cafe’s good for coffees and bites by day, but this nook under the State Library makes a dandy drinking den by night.
Fiftyfive is hiding in plain sight on Elizabeth Street. Next time you’re heading toward Flinders Street Station, keep your eyes peeled for the entrance and treat yourself to a beverage in this relaxed basement bar. Or enjoy Peruvian bites and edgy new art with your drink at Harley House, which is hidden off Exhibition Street.
Please drink responsibly.