Bars, Pubs and Clubs


Melbourne Bloggers. Meet, Greet and Drink.

The idea of having another Melbourne Blogger meetup has been bandied around a fair bit since the last food bloggers picnic. Duncan, Sarah and Thanh did a wonderful job of organising it and aside from the heat wave that put a dampener on the original date, the Commoner hosted what was a very enjoyable afternoon. The spread of food on the table that afternoon still gives me nightmares (the good kind) and I secretly kindle hopes of Jess‘s caramel tart and Duncan’s macaroons.

However, there are a huge number of bloggers in Melbourne blogging about a variety of things, while I like to think of myself as a food, wine and cocktail blogger, I love meeting people with a passion for anything and everything and we all love Melbourne so without further ado, I would like to annouce…

31st May. Melbourne Bloggers Meet, Greet and Drink.

The idea is that anyone that is blogging in Melbourne, about Melbourne or is in Melbourne is welcome to come and meet like-minded people. That means all of you craft, food, wine, technology, sport or news bloggers are invited.

The Workshop Bar, Corner A’Beckett and Elizabeth St


View Workshop Bar in a larger map

The venue is The Workshop Bar on the corner of A’Beckett and Elizabeth St. It’s a casual non-intimidating bar, close to transport and there is a semi-private room that we can utilise if it starts getting too busy. The bar is upstairs and the entrance is this dark doorway on the Victoria Markets side of A’Beckett St. We will get started around 3pm and hopefully not wake up on Monday morning with too much of an aching head.

In the interest of getting an idea of numbers, if you are interested, please leave a comment here. Also, feel free to invite anyone else who might be interested. All are welcome.

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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The Tip Tray Question

Everyone has been there, that strange moment where you have your hand out waiting for the change and the barman has your change on a tip tray putting it down on the bar where you are standing. The barman inevitably then breaks any sort of eye contact with you and goes about doing something else. What are you thinking? Why can’t he just put it in my hand? What’s wrong with a bit of conversation? Why on earth is the money on a strange little tray? Is this what they call hospitality around here?

This same thing seems to be happening in drinking establishments across Melbourne (the world?) As with many things in the hospitality industry, the rationale often isn’t shared by management and the service staff are following the orders blindly — perhaps missing the point?

There are a few options when handing over the change in a bar, placing the change directly in the customers hand, placing it directly on the bar or putting it in a tip tray. In the past, I have alternated between the former 2 options deciding on which is better on a case by case basis and certainly wouldn’t have a problem with using a tip tray instead of putting the money directly on the bar. At my current job, I’m made to use a tip tray for each transaction, never placing the change in the customer’s hand.

Table service is a case where using a tip tray is always better. Without a tray, the transaction regularly becomes a jumble of change, drinks and hands. Yet with a tray, it allows the server, present the drinks and the change in one fell swoop and leave the customer with a convenient place to leave any gratuity.

When table service isn’t involved, what is the point of the tip tray? Is it to encourage people to tip or to give a vibe of more professional service? If it is the former, I think it does help, but somewhat losing your credibility. The same way begging on the street would garner more change for the tip jar. The case for the latter is not so rosy, the uncomfortable moment where the customer has their hand out and the tip tray is placed on the bar kills any impression of improved service quality. As far as I’m concerned it is far too impersonal to be considered good service.

What are your experiences? How do you feel about the tip tray?

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.

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Why do people like the Belgian Bier Cafe?

This post was written by Bruce Thurlow who’s normal prose cover the pages of The Black Keys Fan Lounge, The Adventures of Mr Dingleberry and Travel Generation. His opinion on the Belgian Bier Cafe on St Kilda Road rang ever so true with us all here at My Aching Head.

The other night at the Belgian Bier Cafe on St Kilda Road, someone asked: why do girls like yoga?

Not such an unusual question when drinking at a boys-only gathering whilst contemplating the meaning of life and drinking expensive imported beer.

There’s plenty more questions about girls with no definitive answer, I thought, without being drawn into the conversation. I had after all been stuck for minutes wondering why I was paying A$7.50 for a Leffe Brun (Dark). This sweet brown beer isn’t as popular as its Blonde brother, but it is my personal favourite. When I say ‘favourite’ I mean it’s my beer of choice on the rare occasions I venture to this so-called ‘Cafe’. So-called because I was sitting at a picnic table placed on an otherwise dusty-brown piece of dirt – average facilities masquerading as a classy establishment. Others weren’t so lucky having brought their own picnic blankets or camping out on a rare piece of grass.

Upon the table was a ‘tray of frites’ I had bought for A$7.50 and smothered in mayonnaise to be shared amongst friends. I’m not sure how regular fried chips taste any different simply because they are described in a foreign terminology and served in an un-common fashion. I would have been happy with a bowl of chips.

Before long someone bought a Duvel, 8.5% of alcohol, pure bottled fury. It was also marked at an angry price, AU$10.50. The bottle did look pretty cool though. I guess the guy who bought it was already pissed.

After a long conversation about Hong Kong martial arts movies and directors had petered out, I asked everyone at the table: why do people like this Belgian Bier Cafe? There was no answer. It was obviously just one more of those questions that has no definitive answer.

2009 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival – Good value events

Having just had a quick browse through the guide for this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Festival I must say I’m completely underwhelmed. The length (amount of events) and breadth (number of cuisines) are impressive but the majority of them seem to completely ignore the factor of cost. A quick perusal of the index of events at the back of the guide confirms my suspicion, out of about 300 events, only 26 are free, 50% are in the above $50-200 price range and  are in the over $200 range. Considering the economic climate and the “festival” status of this event is this a little over the top?

This being said, there are a number of events that look like they will be really good value that I will definitely be trying to get to.

7th – 23rd March – Restaurant Express ($35)

A huge number of restaurants in the city and surrounds are providing a 2 course lunch, a glass of wine and a coffee or tea for $35. This seems like it will be a really great way to experience a restaurant that you might not normally be able to afford to eat at, or if you would might be able to have a couple of extra lunches for the same price.

12 March – A spanish affair, Comme ($40)

An extravaganza of all things Spanish, flamenco, food, beer and cava will be the flavour of the night on Alfred Place. Hosted by the the renowned Comme Kitchen the evening should be a Spanish style party of the highest quality.

7th March – Meat & Malbec, The Montague Hotel ($25)

The Montague Hotel will play host to an exploration of beef and Malbec wine. The wine comes straight from South America and as any red blooded Argentinian will tell you, it’s a match made in heaven.

14 March – Section 8 Block Party ($25)

Tucked in behind Chinatown, Section 8 is an example of a laneway bar that is bigger than the laneway. The Block Party is slated to bring together everything that the bar stands for. Fine beer, great asian cuisine, DJs and hula girls – What more could you ask for for $25?

21st and 22nd March – Cellar Door at Southgate ($25)

This is will be like going to all of the state’s cellar doors all at once. There are a number of learning sessions and tours provided for free by the festival and a number of restaurants are providing cheap tasting plates. This is all capped off by the Melbourne International Jazz festival happening at the same time.

23 March – The Global Trends, The Langham ($40)

Certainly not for every food lover looking for a bargain but this short conference about the food and wine industry and its media will certainly pique the interest of any aspiring journalist or blogger. 3 sessions with various world class media personalities and chefs and drinks should certainly cover a lot of ground regarding the entire industry and it’s future.

Drinking and Bars in Queenstown: A Definitive Guide

Known as the adventure capital of New Zealand (the Pacific? the Southern Hemisphere? the World?) Queenstown is a “must see” place in New Zealand. Aside from Bungy jumping, rafting, canyoning and jetboating it also has a pretty awesome bar and boozing culture. In fact, a lot of kiwis from all over make the trek down south purely for the party. Now, before you turn you away thinking it’s not for you, let me assure you there is something here for everyone.

There is basically 3 types of drinking establishment in Queenstown, Bars, Pubs and backpacker bars. That doesn’t sound like much but there is over 70 liquor licenses in the central business area and probably 30 of those are dedicated to drinking. If you can check out them all in a weekend then Monday morning would definitely be a struggle – infact Monday mornings in Queenstown are nearly always a struggle.

Pubs

The pubs in Queenstown are the places that you go to when you want to kick back, have a sneaky pint or 3, and enjoy the scenery and the weather. Wether it’s by accident or design they are all positioned perfectly to get hours and hours of afternoon and evening sun during summer. The Pig & Whistle, Monty’s and Dux de Lux are the pick of the pubs and all are well worth the time, they all sell cheap pints and decent pub food. It’s worth mentioning that Dux de Lux brews all their own beer on the premises and it is very good. Personally I’m a fan of the Alpine Ale, but there is a flavour for everyone.

If you want a bit more of a “local” experience, try the Frankton Arm Tavern (in Frankton) or the Wakatipu Tavern. Both of them sell cheap grub, beer and feel exactly like your local.

Backpacker Bars

Calling these bars “Backpacker Bars” doesn’t really do them the justice they deserve. If you want to party, Winnies, Frasers, Altitude, Buffalo Club and the World Bar are the places to go. They are all huge places, sell cheap drinks, play cool music and all the tour buses full of people that just want to get loose. It’s best to not leave it too late in the evening to get there. Altitude and Buffalo Club are usually pumping around 10:30, World Bar doesn’t really start hitting it’s straps till midnight.

If you are planning on heading out to these places and you should, then there are always people wandering around town in the evening giving out 2 for 1 vouchers, hit them up for a few. It wouldn’t be a night out in Queenstown without some cheap jaegar bombs at Frasers, some horizontal bungy at Altitude, standing by the fire at the Buff and a teapot from the World. Teapot? It’s a tasty tasty cocktails served in a teapot with a few shot glasses, not really worth the money, but it’s a must do, you will be asked about it.

Bars

While people mainly think of Queenstown for the big party venues, in my mind it’s the tiny bars that make it. At 3am when the World Bar kicks everyone out on the street there are still places to drink and drink you will. Walking around during the day it’s easy to miss the multitude of tiny establishments but if you look hard enough they are everywhere. Bardeaux, Minibar, Barmuda and Bar-up are all down Searle Lane. They all have a massive range of beer, spirits or wine and will charge you a fortune for the pleasure. That’s not going to stop you though when it’s 4:30am, you are parched and they are the only places open.

Debajo and Tardis are both on Cow Lane and Skybar is just around the corner of Camp and Cow. Skybar is a swanky cocktail bar, where the staff are always friendly and will be happy to have a chat and a drink. Debajo is a tiki-style bar that always plays funky dance music. Tardis is the only place in town where you’ll hear good hip-hop maybe with the possibility of a live MC. If you are in town in May, make sure you checkout the Sugardaddy competition, it just might make your winter, or break your wallet.

The rest of the bars are scattered around the place, The Boiler Room and Minus 5 are in the wharf, Eichardts is on the water-front on Marine Parade, Sub-culture is underneath Montys and Harry’s Pool Bar is near Buffalo Club. Each of these places has it’s own attraction, Boiler Room plays the cheesiest of the 80s and 90s on the weekends, the locals love it so it’s usually pretty busy. Minus 5 is an ice bar, it’s pretty expensive but worth a look. Subculture is the closest to Queenstown’s only dance club, and the drum and bass pumps until the wee hours of the morning and Harry’s is the only place in town with more than a couple of pool tables. Finally, Eichardts is the house bar of an extremely exclusive hotel but the bar is open to all comers. The cocktail list is extensive, varied and made with the freshest of ingredients. Eichardts is my favourite bar in Queenstown, regardless of it being more expensive, closed after 11 and super-pretentious.

Food

Come the end of the night you are going to be stumbling the streets looking for some sort of actual sustenance, something big, something greasy and something fast. There are 2 options, Fergburger and the Night and Day (the locals call it the 2-4.) Fergburger is an amazing gourmet burger place that sells expensive hamburgers which taste amazing and you will inhale with glee in a drunken stupor but, I recommend saving the Ferg until you are sober you will enjoy it more. The 2-4 sells all you need, deep fried lasagne, cordon bleu (whatever that is,) nachos, wedges and my personal favourite lamb shanks

That’s pretty much all there is to say about Queenstown, except for 1 bar. I’m not really sure where to classify it and even less sure what to say about it, but Chicos is a Queenstown institution. It’s been there as far as I can tell it’s been there forever and it wouldn’t surprise me if the same reggae/dub cover band has been playing for just as long. I’ve been going there for a year and a half and they haven’t changed their set. If you are in town, Chicos is upstairs on the mall and it’s the sort of place that you just might well stumble into having an awesome night at. Last time I checked they sold $2 beers between 10:30 and 11:30 every night, it’s definitely worth stopping in for one.