Touring Melbourne’s strange and iconic cocktail bars

I used to take a camera with me everywhere. I’d upload photos to Facebook like nobody’s business. I’ve moved to Instagram and instantly share moments with my iPhone, but I don’t always spare time for descriptions.

I had four years to write about my experience living in Vancouver and blew it. After a former colleague from Vancouver paid me a visit in Melbourne recently, I vowed to do a better job of it in Melbourne. Here’s a start.

Brett and I meet in Melbourne Central. A pang for Vancouver hits me as I hear his Canadian accent after two years. Qantas’ luggage fail forces us to find a change of clothes and we’ve hit the mall chaos of lunchtime. People scurry toward escalators, carrying burgers and fries in grease-spotted paper bags. Waves of students arrive on trains for afternoon classes. Not exactly the Melbourne moment I hoped to begin with, but I have all afternoon to right this wrong.

After a costume change, we beeline for a burger and beer at 1000 ₤ Bend. I introduce Brett to Little Creatures Pale Ale. We get politics and our five-year-plans out of the way and Brett fills me in on what I’ve missed since leaving Vancouver. The craft beer scene–and food truck scene–have exploded. Cue another pang for Vancouver.

Burger and beer at 1000 ₤ Bend
Burger and beer (Brett’s first Australian beer) at 1000 ₤ Bend

A good Melbourne guide, I take Brett to laneway bar, Chuckle Park. I order two Mountain Goat Delicious Ales and they come in tinnies. A tick on the Australian check list.

chuckle park laneway bar melbourne
Chuckle Park have caesars on the menu, but neither of us is crazy about caesars (or the price)

A little drizzle doesn’t hold us back from a Madame Brussels visit. Brett’s reaction to the outside/inside garden party decor is worth it. We order Miss Pearls’ Ginge Minge Punch. The bubbly, naughty and vivacious Miss Pearls once told me her two teenage sisters dressed her up and paraded her around as their doll. I remember this as we sit inside a real-life dollhouse.

madame brussels bar
Miss Pearls aims to put a smile on her visitors’ faces as they walk through the elevator door

Madame Brussels is named after a high-end (and low-end) Melbourne brothel owner from the gold-rush era, so I figured it was fitting to take on another history excursion.

Crossley Street, formerly Romeo Lane, gained notoriety in the 1950s as an opium den and red light district. The street was eventually renamed and cleaned up, but cocktail bar, Romeo Lane, gives a nod to the old days.

romeo lane cocktail bar
Brett and I take a short detour to Romeo Lane. For history

From one extreme to another (as is Melbourne’s weather this day), I lead Brett to Croft Alley. He’s sceptical as we face the first bend. The alley is strewn with graffiti, dumpsters, milk crates and broken-down cardboard. We turn another corner. Brett is still not convinced. It helps that a group of 20-somethings emerges behind us, but he laughs nervously.

The croft institute womens bathroom
The Croft Institute is one bar where you’ll want to go to the bathroom in pairs

Raymondo greets us at the bar. He’s the most friendly mixologist we’ve ever met. We tell him the flavours we like and he whips up something perfect beyond expectations. Brett and I sip our drinks in the horror movie that is the waiting room–opposite a century-old wheelchair and beneath a TV playing static.

croft institute melbourne
Among a few other ingredients, Raymondo mixes a ridiculously tasty cocktail with Russell’s Reserve 10 Year, Pierre Ferrand cognac, absinthe and Peychaud’s Bitters

Not wanting to leave Chinatown just yet, we head to Berlin Bar. I expect the gorilla bouncer from Roger Rabbit to peak through the speakeasy grill. Brett rings the doorbell, we’re ushered in and asked to choose a side.

East Berlin. It’s loud and crowded. It feels like that tavern scene in Beauty and the Beast, with steins clinking and beer spilling everywhere. We spin on our heels and return to West Berlin.

Berlin Bar Melbourne
In West Berlin, we settle into poufs, surrounded by chandeliers as we sip buttered rum

I can’t let Brett leave without trying my favourite dish in the world: seared wallaby with blackened eggplant, macadamia, wattle seed and sea succulents.

Down a dark, very unhappening alley and through a nondescript door, we enter Eau-de-Vie. Jazz plays as a waist-coated host leads us to a couple of free seats. It’s elbow to elbow. They’re out of wallaby, but we still enjoy a perfectly crafted cocktail.

Eau-de-Vie Melbourne
I order Autumn Leaves and Brett orders what he calls a “manly drink”. It arrives decorated with fairy floss

A visit to Melbourne isn’t complete without a walk down Hosier Lane. Movida Next Door is next on the list. I’d have loved to show Brett Owen Dippie’s Heath Ledger as the Joker piece, but several garbage jobs have covered it over time.

Movida next door melbourne
No eggplant chips have beaten Movida Next Door’s

Our final stop is Fall From Grace. A secret cellar bar behind a bookcase to top it all off. Except it doesn’t. The bookcase door is broken.

Fall From Grace Melbourne
Fall From Grace’s shine wares off a little after a regular trot down the staircase. The suits don’t seem to mind

We had a few misses on the bar hop, but Melbourne’s hidden speakeasies, heavily tattooed alleys, retro-fitted warehouses and relaxed laneway bars left an impression on this Canadian.

Like Vancouver, I adore Melbourne and I won’t again miss out on recording special moments in this most liveable city.