Melbourne’s secret doors: Eau de Vie and more

Hidden down laneways, underground and behind unmarked doors are Melbourne’s concealed and hard-to-find bars – all waiting to be discovered. One such spot is Eau de Vie; a dimly lit, jazz-fuelled cocktail bar and restaurant at the end of Malthouse Lane.

Eau de Vie

A speakeasy that’s not so easy to find

Being a prohibition-era-style speakeasy, Eau de Vie is purposefully a little hidden; with no sign on the door to help you. Owner Greg Sanderson says it was all part of the plan.

“We were always going to do a speakeasy. We looked at five different locations. Some were on a main street so we were going to have to do something to the front – put up a dry cleaners sign or board up the front and get people in through a back alley. But the location we ended up finding was perfect.”

A hit of old-world charm

Make the effort to find the unassuming door and venture inside. You’ll be rewarded with a lengthy leather-bound cocktail menu featuring 44 unique signature drinks and the odd liquid nitrogen experience at your table or booth – all in a space designed to feel like you’re sitting in a gentleman’s lounge filled with items from your nanna’s house. “We wanted attention to detail,” Greg says. “The glassware is crystal, the music stays low, it’s meant to be a conversational bar where you come to imbibe on quality cocktails and spirits.”

And the food? It’s an experience. There’s an a-la carte menu designed around sharing, a five-course degustation with stories to tell and plenty of cocktail-related theatrics.

Eau de Vie Cocktail

Discovery is all part of the experience

Like any Melburnian, Greg has his own hidden favourites in the city. “Romeo Lane, Murmur, Bar Americano – I love that place!” he says. And adds that they are all part of a bigger experience; one that’s very ‘Melbourne’: “Once you start having a few hidden restaurants, bars and cafes in the city, people become willing to walk down the alleys, to start exploring and then they find all the great artwork and hidden treasures.”

Eau de Vie

When you’ve emerged from the warm, plush interior of Eau de Vie, there are plenty of other hideaways to go searching for…

  • Berlin Bar: Finding the doorway to the staircase is one thing. After ringing the doorbell and being let through, you’ll need to decide whether you prefer the opulence of West Berlin or the grittiness of East Berlin. Keep going back for their rotating ‘cocktail of the week’.
  • Izakaya Den: The street entrance to this Japanese sake bar could be confused for the entrance of an office building. Look out for the subtle silver signage and make your way down the stairs (and down the stairs again) on Little Collins and Russell Streets. Their two-page scroll of a drinks list will impress.
  • Hihou: Izakaya Den’s older brother on the corner of Spring Street and Flinders Lane is equally tricky to find. Its name says it all, meaning ‘secret treasure’.
  • Madame Brussels: At Bourke Street and McIlwraith Place, turn into the several-decades-old foyer with brown tiles and take the ramshackle elevator to the top floor. Here, you’ll gain entrée into a fairy tale – a naughty one.
  • Sister Bella: Tucked away at the bottom of the graffiti-clad Sniders Lane, enter through the open roller door to discover this no-nonsense bar and restaurant. Once you’ve found Sister Bella, keep looking, there’s a second level upstairs – not to be missed.
  • Goldilocks: Unlike the many venues hidden down dubious-looking laneways, this gem can be found on Swanston Street; well lit by the bright lights of Noodle Kingdom, which you’ll need to enter to head up to this bar and rooftop, inspired by the wonder of fables and fairy tales.
  • Fall from Grace: Taking its cues from classic spy films, Fall from Grace is the ultimate hidden bar. This cocktail haven is concealed within State of Grace. Head out the back to discover the secret entrance via a bookshelf and descend the marble staircase to the sophisticated cellar.