Boasting some of the best bars on the continent, the Melbourne drinking scene is packed full of vibrant and sociable places, where you can enjoy a quiet drink with your partner or a cheeky cocktail or three with friends. The Central Business District, the heart of Melbourne, has some of the coolest bars around, with secret entrances, themed-private rooms and specialty menus. Check out 10 of the best here.
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Looking for a bit of kitsch, tongue-in-cheek fun? There’s no better place than Madame Brussels’ rooftop bar. The entrance is tucked away, but once you’ve made your way up to the rooftop you’ll find yourself in another world, somewhat reminiscent of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Madame Brussels is named after a Madame of old, famous for her eccentric lifestyle. The current owner, the equally outrageous but personable Miss Pearls, has her staff dressed in tennis gear, serving jugs of cocktails to customers sitting at tables with umbrellas on fake grass. The Drinkipoos (as she calls the punch-style cocktails) are inventive and fun. Substantial snacks are also available, including toasted sandwiches, dips and breads, French cheese plates and even cupcakes. There is outdoor seating available too, offering breathtaking views over the city, and there are heaters and blankets provided when in gets chilly.
Eau de Vie
Behind an unmarked door, hidden away on Melbourne’s Malthouse alley, is the intimate Art Deco-inspired Eau de Vie bar, where the cocktail preparation is pure theatre. Modelled on a 1920s speakeasy, there’s jazz music playing and even a dedicated whisky room hidden behind a fake bookcase, complete with the most unbelievable whisky menu. If you choose to sit at the main bar, you can watch the cocktail preparation (blow torches and liquid nitrogen abound) – or, if you’re with a group, book a five-course cocktail menu at the degustation table bar. For those who need a bit of sustenance with all those cocktails and whisky, there is an extensive range of cheese and charcuterie as well as more substantial dishes. A thoroughly sophisticated but fun night out.
To get to this Polish-inspired bar you enter through a hidden side door and head up several flights of stairs past modern wall art, until eventually you find yourself in a lofty space of exposed bricks and beams (and a fireplace that’s ideal for cosy winter evenings). There’s limited seating, so try to get a table with a view out of the large windows so you can people-watch over the outdoor bar next door. As well as an almost endless menu of cocktails, beers and spirits, the bar also serves fantastic Polish food such as the Little Lebowski (mini pulled-pork burgers), Piroshki (sour cream pastry parcels), and polish donuts for dessert. There are also great live music events laid on throughout the year, which means you’ll always have a great time at Ferdydurke.
This is an effortlessly classy venue. With its wood panelling and red velvet chairs, 1806 has a beautiful mezzanine allowing you to sit upstairs and watch the main event: bartenders downstairs mixing cocktails. 1806 was the year the term “cocktail” was invented (hence the name of the bar), and the extensive menu comes with an entertaining side-helping of history. Booking is essential, and you can even have a cocktail masterclass at you table. For those likely to get peckish, shared plates and snacks are also available.
Opened in 2013 by brilliantly artistic owners, Bar Ampere is a Gothic-style spot specialising in the mother of all spirits: absinthe. Exposed power cords, bare bulbs and graffitied concrete walls make up the decor, and the central bar has an illuminated wall made from wine bottles. Explore the eerie Swamp Room, complete with “creepers” adorned with fairy lights hanging down its walls, and a secret escape route to the nearby Gin Palace. There is an impressive array of aperitifs, digestifs, wines and cocktails, and food and drink is served until 3am on weekdays. But if you just want to chill, sit out in the lofty covered alcove seating area and watch the world go by.
Bomba Rooftop Bar
A bomba is a Spanish workers’ bar offering simple tapas dishes to share, and this stylish rooftop bar is exactly that – but with the added bonus of fantastic views of Melbourne. Downstairs is a restaurant with amazing food and bookings are essential h– although walk-ins are possible for the bar. The wine list focuses on Spanish varieties from small artisan producers, many of which are new to the Australian market, while cocktails, sherry and vermouth are also available.
The Lui Bar
This spectacular venue occupies the top floor of the magnificent Rialto Building. At some 230 metres (755 feet) high, there are breathtaking views of up to 60 kilometres (37 miles) on a clear day. More informal than the restaurant, Lui Bar still has a fairly strict dress code and you must be approved by the door staff at ground level before being allowed in. Check out the fun pop-up menu featuring detailed Australian-inspired cocktails – order the Lola Montez Spider Dance Fizz (named after the famous 19th-century erotic dancer, and made with French champagne and seasonal fruits) and watch it being mixed. A simple bar snack menu is available too, including Beluga caviar for the truly discerning. Have a drink with friends on the truly amazing observation deck and gaze at the sensational view, or visit on a Sunday and chill out to laid-back live music.
A hidden door with GP written in gold lettering marks the entrance to this basement den. The theme is deliciously decadent, with leather armchairs, gold loungers, animal hide throws, dim lighting and low background music all adding to the laid-back vibe. As you would expect, the gin list is truly international, and there are even gin events held here throughout the year. Martinis, cocktails and wines are also available – brought to your table by polite, uniformed wait staff – and drinks are served in huge balloon glasses.
You can either enter this basement retreat directly from the road or from the excellent Thai restaurant, Chin Chin, upstairs. GoGo is dark and cosy with subdued lighting and lots of private corners, as well as a large seated bar area. The atmosphere is upbeat and happening, with DJs performing popular hits at the weekends. GoGo’s Little Black Book holds the innovative four-seasons menu: superb Thai-influenced cocktails which can be shared by the carafe, as well as a small Asian-themed beer list. A selection of bar food from Chin Chin is also available.
This beloved drinking-and-dining establishment is no easy place to find; half-way up a rather innocuous looking building. Cookie has been cleverly divided into three spaces, and combines a beer hall, an incredibly good-value Thai restaurant, and a balconette area with city-view french doors for romantic evenings. The Beer Hall boasts more than 200 local and international craft beers on tap or by the bottle, a staggering 88-page wine list and plenty of cocktails. Always packed, seemingly chaotic, but surprisingly organised, Cookie is a unique place that’s noisy, fun and full of energy.
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