Melbournes Most Unusual Bars
A night out in Melbourne is unlike that in any other city in Australia. Where other capitals have streets packed with the ‘over indulged’, Melbourne’s drinking establishments are spread out across the whole city. The result is a far less confronting experience with some of the most unique bars you’re ever likely to find. There are many worth a visit, but the three we’ve featured here are so unique we just had to write about them. If planning a trip to Melbourne, visiting at least one of these is an absolute must!
Wind your way through Chinatown down a dirty, smelly, dimly lit, and wildly painted alley to a dead end where you’ll find this door-in-the-wall garden of earthly delights called The Croft Institute. It is three floors of mad scientist eccentricity, but it’s the sort of place you can go for laid back evening with your friends, or seek out for some theatre, improv, or comedy or DJ & dance. Whatever your appetite, you can indulge it while you enjoy a drink!
The ground floor entrance opens into what resembles an old school chemistry lab, complete with high, round, soft top stools and gas hookups for Bunsen burners. This laboratory theme is continued throughout the bar, which is peculiarly appointed with a collection of assorted glassware (test tubes, flasks, beakers) and items reclaimed from a de-commissioned hospital. The second floor accommodates the in-house vodka distillery and the ‘Departments of Hygiene’ (aka toilets), each of which is furnished with a gurney. If you don’t hold your alcohol well, this might be the place for you until your friends are ready to put you into a cab. The top floor is styled after a once-in-1950 high school gymnasium with bleachers for seating and room for up to 100 live bodies. It opens on the weekends after 10pm.
The Institute’s craft is mixing. The bartenders are friendly and knowledgeable and take great pride in their offerings of speciality cocktails including their signature: The Experiment. This changes monthly and is entirely the result of, well, the ‘mixing’ science. There is no cocktail menu per se, but the staff will happily provide you with a custom cocktail to suit both palate and preference. Drinks are served in an array of test tubes and vessels otherwise suited to science and experimentation. If you so choose, you may also sample a beverage from the tip of a syringe. A little gimmicky, admittedly. But fun, too, yes?
The weekends here are lively, and the crowd is varied. The music might be a little mismatched considering the décor, but if you’re inclined to enjoy listening to live DJs on a Friday or Saturday night you’ll enjoy it. If not, the potency of a Croft cocktail will settle you.
Imagine that you’re in 1950s Berlin, a once beautiful city divided by politics and ruined by war. The industries and other facilities are being dismantled by occupying forces. The railway tracks have been torn up. There is no movement of resources. Conditions are harsh. People are trying to flee the historic centre of East Berlin westward to escape looming destruction. A wall is built overnight around East Berlin to imprison the population. Over the years, cut off from access to food and utilities, the people inside the wall struggle to survive, while outside the wall, influenced by the wealth of the western world, West Berlin flourishes.
The Berlin bar reflects this divide with each of two sections having a distinct atmosphere. West Berlin reflects the opulence and luxuriousness of the West German parlour with its white leather seating, private booths, carpeted floors, chandeliers, and private service available to guests. By contrast, a guest to East Berlin navigates ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ and comes into a space resembling a bunker that is lit with incandescent bulbs and is decorated with repurposed objects. Having once had a life of their own, these objects that tell of a people’s resourcefulness and resilience. A bathtub serves as a cocktail table. Ammunition cases are side tables. Bunk beds offer seating.
Berlin offers a Cocktail Club every Tuesday and Wednesday. This is a cocktail training session for groups of up to eight people and is perfect for anyone learning to use the basic techniques of cocktail mixing and everything else from absinthe to ice to syrup.
This cheeky little cocktail bar celebrates the life and times of Melbourne’s primary Madam. As such, it mightn’t be the sort of place to bring your mother-in-law or a first date without a forewarning of its flavour. At every turn there are big jugs of fruity cocktail, sausage rolls, cucumber, cupcakes, and tarts accompanied by many a wink and a nod. Be ready for it. Bring your larger-than-life appetite. Madame’s signature DD CUP awaits exploration!
The Madam overlooks the east end of Melbourne from somewhere above Bourke Street, and aside from being a good vantage from which to seek out an evening’s prospects, the Madam’s pretty terrace offers a fabulous view of the city. This sassy spot saddles a dowdy old office building, so be prepared to attend to the appropriate cues when seeking it out. With much of the lounge open to the air, you might be able to hear the guests in the throes of their enjoyment from down below.
The environment is lighthearted, and fun, with parasols and plush lounge chaises providing a hint of allure. The old-school glamour of this place of faux herbe and dainty, prettily appointed garden furniture and beautiful staff (in their vintage tennis gear) will set your heart alight. And if this doesn’t do it, beyond the trellising and hedged bar you’ll find a range of possibilities for a good drink. If you prefer to stick with a theme: Martinis, or a bottles of rosé might be a good choice, but Madam also boasts some of the rarest dark spirits in Melbourne including 20 or more of the world’s finest rums.
Ooh! If you enjoy a good garden party, Madam Brussels invites you to book your very own at $48 per head. Sounds delightful. Visit her website for more information.