Bars, Pubs and Clubs » Melbourne

Read reviews of the best and worst bars, pubs and clubs Melbourne has to offer.

These range from the biggest dance venues to the most hidden away laneway bars.


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

Front Page of the Menu P1030062 P1030060 P1030056 P1030055 P1030064

More photos

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.

P1010297 The bar man and andrea Outside Mr W Mr W Smoking Area #1 The Bar Andrea The Hallway Andrea P1010308 Smoking Area #2

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.

Seating at Double Happiness Toilets at Double Happiness Entrance to Double Happiness Chairman Mao at Double Happiness Propaganda at Double Happiness Seating Area at Double Happiness

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.

Libation, Brunswick St, Fitzroy

Libation, Brunswick St Previously known as The Bar with No Name and for whatever reason it now has a name. Libation’s definition is The pouring of a drink offering as a religious ritual, fitting for an establishment which brings high quality drinks down from their pedestal. Its decor is understated and elegant with antique style furnishings and a great view out onto the busy corner of Johnson and Brunswick St or a back room if a little privacy or intimacy is more to your liking.

The selection of booze is everything you would expect for any high calibre cocktail bar in Melbourne. The fridge is stocked with a great range of beers from a range of boutique breweries, Moo Brew Pale Ale being a standout. The wine list has been carefully crafted from local wines, the house red, white and sparkling even sport Libation brand as is happening across the town.

The range of spirits is where Libation really shines. There is no great collection of single malt whiskey or agave tequila but the back bar covers a lot of ground.A few flavours of absinthe opens the account backed by a range of liqueurs and syrups that look like they see some use. Maraschino liqueur is a bottle rarely seen on the backbar of establishment in these parts and Luxardo is a particularly good brand. 42 Below, Grey Goose and Belvedere cover the bases with every flavour of vodka imaginable. 10 cane rum has a major presence on the shelves but doesn’t outshine the Havana Club 8 year-old or the Angostura 1919. Gin-wise the offering is solid, the shelf holds Tanqueray, South and Hendricks as well as the old favourites, Bombay and Plymouth.  Where the gin-shelf is lacklustre, the whisky shines. Laphroaig, Glenmorangie, Asyla and Dewars  backed up by all the styles of Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal, Glenfiddich and Jamesons.

imgp5322 The cocktail list is a contemporary affair but the classics are well represented. Sitting at the bar on a quiet afternoon your drinks will be served by knowledgable and friendly staff who are happy to have a chat but this isn’t always the case.  On weekend nights the service won’t be as personal but happily the quality doesn’t flag. Despite a recent Sunday being busy, the request of a Mint Julep was given a strange look, a few whispers behind the bar and the recipe confirmed. The end result was garnished beautifully, tasted great but lacked bitters, an easy omition.

This bar is another gem in Melbourne’s small bar scene, intimate and full of character it would be a crime to compare it to the top end cocktail bar’s like Der Raum and 1806. Its beauty lies in its straightforward, down to earth approach which brings well made cocktails, good wine and beer at good prices to everyone.

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Napier Hotel, Fitzroy

The Napier Hotel, Fitzroy, Melbourne As is so often the case of Melbourne watering-holes, the Napier Hotel is tucked away on a side street off Brunswick St in Fitzroy. Built in the 19th century in the same grand old style of most Melbourne hotels, the pub has the curious feeling that not too much has changed since the day it was built. Sure, they’ve fixed the ceiling and mopped the floors, the memorabilia on the walls is as up to date as a Benson & Hedges series poster can be and the beers on tap certainly weren’t around then but it wouldn’t surprise me if the pub is still painted in the same colours (it has recently had a new lick of paint.) The bar itself probably hasn’t changed much and the same barflies have been there since the mid 1960s.

This very feeling makes the Napier the perfect local. Friendly faces, cheap meals and comfortable surrounds make dropping in for a quiet pint or to watch the footy all too easy. Footy in Melbourne isn’t just something to watch, it is religion and at the Napier, in the heart of Fitzroy, things are no different. The walls are covered with Fitzroy and Brisbane Lions guernseys, premiership posters and team photos and when the Lions are playing, the very same barflies will tell you stories about how Paul Roos and Bernie Quinlan used to come in and drink 3 pints before the game every Saturday. Believing them is another story.

The menu is standard pub fare, with a difference. The ubiquitous chicken parmagiana makes an appearance with the option of house-smoked kangaroo rather than ham, calling it the best Parma in Melbourne would be ridiculous (as it always is), the roo-meat is a great touch and well worth trying. The Bogan Burger is a massive hamburger with the works including a potato scallop but it doesn’t live up to the high expectations set by all the rave reviews. There is also a more restaurant/cafe style menu mostly comprising of different styles of salad, with lamb, squid or cajun chicken. Across all of these meals one thing jumps out at you, and that is value for money. The size is astounding, the quality uncompromising and the price cheap, considering.

Meals at the Napier in Fitzroy, Melbourne The Bar @ The Napier, Fitzroy, Melbourne The Napier Hotel, Fitzroy, Melbourne The Bar @ The Napier, Fitzroy, Melbourne The Napier Hotel, Fitzroy, Melbourne Napier Hotel Spread