Bars, Pubs and Clubs

Chin Chin takes a liberty too far

I love Chin Chin. I’m friends with Jess and Ben and love the food and pretty much everything about the place (especially the cutlery). In fact, I’ve probably been there more in the last 3 months than anywhere else, including my favourite hamburger shop.

But today, they’ve taken a big step backwards – they spammed me on my mobile phone. I received the SMS message “Gogo is a-gogo, Chin Chin’s new underground cocktail bar is now open daily….”. I presume the only way they would have my number is because I’ve left it on file for them to call me back when my table is ready. Sounds like they’ve sent this message out to everyone who has done the same. Not cool.

What I find so interesting though is that they would even consider that they needed to do it. The Twitter and Facebook campain that they used prior to launch of the restaurant worked a treat, at time of posting they have 1581 followers on Twitter. The Twitter account regularly talks about all things Chin Chin related and no one would really care about a week or so worth of Tweets about the new bar.

My bet is that whoever sent that Tweet didn’t consult people like Jess or Ed and they are now regretting it.

The Confusion at the Middle Park Hotel continues

Front Page of the Menu

The front page of the Menu. Worth a read.

The Middle Park Hotel has been refurbished, rebranded and reinvigorated. So they would have you believe. This ex-brewery, ex-party, ex-neighbourhood pub is the latest gastropub in town and the food is getting rave reviews. People are over the top with the quality of the food that chef Paul Wilson is producing and they are right, the quality of the food is great. Perfectly executed.

But what are they doing? The hotel is trying to be everything to everyone. It has an amazing feature-piece bar which dominates the room and a wine and booze list to match. The architecture is startling, built with beautiful dark wood, it even has a custom printed carpet with the hotel’s emblem. The collection of sporting paraphernalia adorning the walls is pretty impressive. Robbie McEwen’s signed green jersey, a Victor Trumper bat and a variety of panoramic photos, rugby jerseys and old, long-irrelevant highschool awards boards. I suppose it is left over from the days of the Gunn Island.

This strikes me as a hotel built by committee. Take 1 hotel owner who loves his sport and owns a great piece of real estate, add an investor who loves architecture and thinks an interior design makes or breaks a venue and top it all off with an awesome English chef who loves eating and cooking offal. The result is a superb restaurant with a statement on the first page of the menu that they love everything to do with sport and that the Spring Racing carnival will be played on all screens throughout the establishment. This is exactly what the discerning diner wants, the sound of people cheering on the boxing match (advertised on a letter-board out the front) while they are enjoying their offal salad.

Robbie McEwen's Green Jersey The confusion doesn’t stop there. The menu doesn’t know what season it is. The pub has outside dining for close to 50 patrons, perfect to take advantage of the hot, upcoming summer, yet the menu consists of mostly heavy, winter style meals. Offal, roast chicken, lamb chops, pork chops and the “coming soon” roasts of rare animals are not the sort of meal to eat in 35 degree weather.

Nor have they quite grasped the concept of a bar menu. There are 2 menus, a restaurant and a bar menu, yet both can be ordered throughout the hotel but only is their any sort of service at the restaurant tables. Order your meal, explain to the bartender which of the 20 outdoor tables you are sitting at and you receive a box of cutlery, napkins, salt and pepper. With the quality of the food and the price of a meal, I expect a far higher level of service. Perhaps these may be teething problems, but the obvious solution is to only allow the restaurant menu to be ordered from the restaurant where the extremely good waitstaff can handle everything.

You see, the problem is that this pub could be so much more. The critics will love the food and the people of Middle Park are crying out for a place, any place to drink. But this hotel, even with it’s free wifi, superstar chef, and extensive wine and scotch list just isn’t going to be the haunt of the wealthy 55 year old BMW driving residents of Middle Park.

Sad really.

The Menu

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More photos

Brisbane Nightlife: Fortitude Valley

Having spent the better part of my drinking life living in Brisbane I’m acutely aware of the phenomenon that is the Fortitude Valley. One of Australia’s largest party and nightclub districts, the valley has around 60,000 people there every Friday and Saturday night. This makes the place a pretty impressive experience, there are people from all walks of life, pubs and clubs catering to every different subculture and musical interest, a shitload of police and a huge amount of street food-vendors, but it isn’t perfect, in fact far from it.

The problem is the experience so often isn’t good. There aren’t enough bars, pubs and clubs (or maybe there are too many people), there are huge line-ups for venues, most places are already over-crowded and there are a huge number of people on the street supposedly walking between venues. Add to this a lot of alcohol, a 3am curfew, a limited number of taxis and a mesh of cultures and the product is the violence and unrest that the Brisbane City Council and Queensland Police are acutely aware of.

I’m certain that all levels of government and police are trying to solve these problems in their own way, more police on the streets, tighter licensing monitoring, modifying terms of licenses, more licenses, less licenses, more cabs, more cab ranks etcetera, etcetera. Yet as the bandaids pile up, the solution becomes more and more clear to me and while attempting to model the nightlife on another city seems like a fools errand, I think that is the solution, but not quite the same as you are expecting.

Reducing the average size of the licenses and increasing the number of licenses makes sense and seems to work to some extent in Melbourne, yet in the densely populated areas such as King St and Prahran, violence and chaos still abound. However, the areas where there is one or 2 small bars per block are quiet and civil. The sheer size of the Melbourne CBD creates vast number of nooks and crannies for these to thrive.

Reducing the crowd density per venue is obvious, but I believe the real solution is reducing the overall density of punters. Pushing the geographical boundaries of the valley out would increase the square metres of street the police would need to patrol and almost certainly incense the residents of the surrounding suburbs, but at what price do we put on the violence and unrest. There are a number of areas that this shift could move towards.

  1. Remove the separation of “city” and “valley”, encouraging bars to reside at the southern end of Wickham St.
  2. Encourage bars to open along the waterfront between the Valley and the Eagle St pier
  3. Allowing bars to operate until 3 am along James St
  4. Managing the red light district stigma associated with the northern end of Brunswick St thus encouraging a higher quality of venue to open in that area

Melbourne Blogger and Tweeter Drinks – 12th September – Sister Bella

That’s right, it is on again. If you blog or tweet about anything in and around Melbourne then you are invited to come and join us for a quiet drink or 3 at Sister Bella on the 12th September. It doesn’t matter if you write about food, wine, op shopping, fashion, art, craft, design, jewellery, your suburb, startups, business or anything else, everyone is welcome.

The proceedings will get started at 4pm and continue on until everyone leaves or we decide to move the proceedings somewhere else (can anyone say Shanghai Dumpling?) If last time is anything to go by it will definitely just be casual chats with the opportunity to meet some interesting people that you might know or like to say hi to.

If you think you are going to come, please leave a comment so that we have an idea of numbers and can forewarn the bar.


Venue: Sister Bella
Address: Snider Lane (off Drewery Lane)
Time: 4pm
Date: 12th September

Mr Wilkinson, Lygon St, East Brunswick

Before a recent concert at the East Brunswick club we walked over the road for a quick beverage at Mr Wilkinson, the not so recently opened, super-cool Lygon St bar. Our visit was short, just a quick beer and a glass of wine from their well established wine list. As is more and more the case, the wine list is a great showcase for Victorian wine and I certainly wish we could have spent more time sampling the entries.

Sadly, the problem was the temperature of the bar itself. It was freezing. The heating was being provided by a couple of small 4 bar oil heaters, and 1 overhead airconditioner blowing warm air near the end of the bar. The bar was reasonably full, but each group was huddling for warmth around their heaters and as all the seats at the front were taken, we sat in the small indoor area past the toilets. There was no heating and we were forced to cuddle up to each other for warmth.

We didn’t however let this little problem enjoying the bar for what it was. The interior is amazing, described to intricate detaul at the Design Files. However, their photos are taken in full light and don’t quite show it in all its night time glory. The long hallway and back area are filled with amazing shadows cast by candles, green and red lights which sets the mood and makes for a really interesting setting. I’ll let the results of the impromptu photo shoot speak for themselves.

This is one of Melbourne’s suburban gems and would have been much better had the designer taken heating into account. I suppose I’ll be back in the summer.

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Double Happiness, Chinatown

Double Happiness is the quintessential Melbourne bar. Small, out of the way and quirky, this is the sort of place that you would walk past without batting an eye lid, but just try that asian inspired door at the top end of Chinatown and you are in for a surprise.

Propaganda at Double HappinessPresided over by a statuette of chairman Mao and state sponsored propaganda, the space consists of an open arrangement of low couches and the obligatory stools at the bar. Forget about boothes and intimate tables for 2, this open community style arrangement forces you into conversing with your fellow drinkers or provides for a jovial place for a larger group. Even the toilets take the community feel with 1 door between seat and smoking area, unisex toilets and one old laundry sink for your hands.

The asian theme permeates throughout the establishment, the cocktail list consists of contemporary cocktails with asian herbs and flavours. Coriander and ginger, lychee and cardamom mixed deliciously in a combination of smashes, sidecars and martinis. Apart from the strange question of  “How would you like your manhattan, sweet, dry or perfect?” the barman constructed a perfectly balanced cocktail with a perfect dose of sweet vermouth, the requested matuselum 12 year old and a healthy dose of maraschino juice (in the absence of liqueur) topped of with 2 cherries.

Subsequent visits have been met by nothing short of happiness from the barstaff to experiment. Reza (sp?) is the man that always seems to be there and most recently was happy to concoct a libation involving a secret Double Happiness recipe spice syrup, coriander, rye whiskey and vermouth which resulted in a very eastern style mint julep. Dangerously easy to suck down, but perhaps not quite ballsy enough. This collaborative effort with yours truly is what sets this bar apart and seems to be a regular occurence.

It seems that the personalised service isn’t restricted to me alone. Behind the bar there are a number of lockers, storing regular customer’s specially ordered bottles of this and that. I’m told they can and will get just about anything and keep it there just for you when you stumble in late at night for a rare single-malt tipple.

Everything about this bar is friendly, the staff don’t necessarily have the orthodox customer service manner yet it is friendly and welcoming. Their attitude is great, capping off what isn’t necessarily the most popular or trendiest bar in Melbourne. It is more like an old favourite, a comfortable place to go for a late night drink on your own or with friends. A place to sip on a great drink that’s not out of your price range but still made with all the care you deserve. Perhaps this is the communist way.

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Urthboy at the John Curtin Hotel

Last weekend saw Urthboy performing at the in the John Curtin Hotel bandroom. Across the road from the Melbourne Trades Hall and next door to 2 universities the hotel is named after an early Labor Prime Minister. Needless to say the hotel itself has a left wing feel and I’m told it was a regular haunt for union officials notably former Prime Minister and renouned drinker Bob Hawke. As far as a drinking venue or a local the Curtin would be perfect. Cheap meals and well priced beer no doubt brings a huge number of students through the door to the pub style bistro.

The bandroom itself has only been operating as a live music venue for around 6 months and advertises itself as having a state of the art soundsystem and lighting set up. The layout is a very standard upstairs style with stairs in the middle of the dancefloor and bar at the back. It’s a proven design and $14 jugs of beer and $5.50 wines make for a cheap gig out.

The performance of Urthboy though was a little disappointing. Wether the crowd came expecting something else, the new songs not striking the right chords or Urthboy not working the crowd, it lacked the vibe of prior performances. His older stuff wasn’t met with much fanfare while the more popular songs such as Modern Day Folk, We Get Around and Nothing That I’d Rather Do were hits. The support vocals of Jane Tyrrell were exceptional, her haunting voice added a great dimension to the performance.

Perhaps the problem with the performance was the crowds expected unfamiliarity of the new songs. Bizarrely what seemed to be the introduction skit of the song Spitshine was done after the song rather than before. The other issue was the volume of the music. Standing a few metres in front of the sound desk It really could have done with a few more decibels of volume, letting the bass fill what is a large room that wasn’t completely packed with people.

All in all, the concert had room for improvement but at $20 a ticket and served up with cheap beer it is hard to not think the value was good. I hope that Astronomy Class in June don’t make the same mistakes.