Melbourne’s best bars are hidden in plain sight in the city center.
Melbourne may not have the beguiling beaches of Sydney nor the complete laid-back culture of Byron Bay—but what it lacks in these areas, it makes up for in just about everything else: eating, drinking, arts, and music. While Melbourne’s charm can be found out in the streets—roaming through the colorful, hipster neighborhood of Fitzroy or getting lost in continuous laneways of the CBD (Central Business District)—much of its magic is hidden in plain sight.
To reach one of the city’s sexiest cocktail bars, you’ll need to venture up to an attic; to find a restaurant on everyone’s “must-try” list means wandering down through a series of graffiti-covered alleyways.
That’s all to say the city is rich with personality, the best of which hides right under your nose. Wander, get a little lost, and find yourself delighted with where you end up—and use this guide to navigate the map like a local and discover some of the city’s most beloved “secret” destinations.
New Yorkers don’t need to travel far to find a good slice, but when they find themselves in Melbourne, the pies at Pizza Pizza Pizza, a pizza joint-cum-cocktail bar, are worthy of a visit. The American-inspired venue serves up tasty classics like a magic mushroom or triple cheese, as well as more adventurous pies including a dessert pizza made up of white chocolate, sliced almonds, and vanilla ice cream.
But the allure of melted cheese is simply a gateway to the magic hidden behind the neon sign illuminating the doorway of 16 Meyers Place: Behind a velvety black curtain is a nameless cocktail bar. Expect to find intimate booths and seating, dim lighting, a DJ on deck, and a generous cocktail menu featuring everything from frozen piña coladas to house milkshakes just add bourbon.
Ferdydurke is quintessential Melbourne: a bar you might miss if you’re not looking for it, and something not unlike your favorite easy-to-please neighborhood bar. Head down Tattersalls Lane and venture through the side door of its colorful neighbor, the much-loved laneway bar Section 8. Climb two flights of stairs lined with eclectic wallpaper and hand-drawn graffiti, following the groovy tunes of the bar’s regular DJs to find it. Think of funk, hip hop, or disco as the backdrop to your cocktails and bar snacks where you can be anyone or no one and enjoy the heat of the night among strangers.
With a menu boasting over 1,000 whiskeys, Whisky and Alement is the place to discover a wide range of rare, boozy finds from some of the city’s most knowledgeable bartenders. Tucked inside the second floor of a building off the CBD’s Russell Street, patrons mingle with unpretentious bar staff eager to share their recommendations from the extensive—almost exhaustive—selection of vintage and collectible whiskeys. You can order as a single spirit, in a cocktail, or paired with one of their craft beers. For a more unique experience, whiskey enthusiasts can taste a dram directly from a barrel made in collaboration with The Scotch Malt Whiskey Society.
While most of Melbourne’s hidden bars can be discovered by ascending flights of stairs or venturing through a tiny alleyway, Ponyfish Island can be found floating on the Yarra River. Only accessible by a single stairwell entrance in the middle of the Pedestrian Bridge Southbank and surrounded by water on all sides, Ponyfish Island is the CBD’s haven for a sunset cocktail or beer.
The bar itself is charmingly mellow and relatively simple; the appeal is enjoying the river, afternoon sun, and seasonal bar snacks like jaffles (toasted sandwiches), cheese boards, tacos, and nachos. Bar goers can recline on shipping containers that double as bar seats and enjoy the natural surroundings.
Any bar with the word Beneath in its title is sure to lead you somewhere curious. To reach Driver Lane, enter through Little Bourke Street (one of the city’s deceptively charming alleyways), go down a flight of stairs, and find yourself at the entrance of this dimly-lit, cavernous bar. Wooden tables and semi-private booths are illuminated by candlelight and bordered by black and white framed photographs, like the walls of a cozy and intimate living room.
BDL, as its colloquially called, is known for ambiance as much as its substantial cocktail list “inspired by the day in the life of a blues musician and what they drink throughout the day.” On it, you’ll find drinks like “The Way the Cookie Crumbles,” an ode to what Santa might drink (if he drank Bacardi 8 and Chocolate Bitters), Nitro Martinis, or an “Oolong Slayer,” a boozy take on the city’s much-loved bubble tea.
While you’re drinking, enjoy bar snacks of toasted sandwiches, croquettes, cheese, charcuterie, and oysters as well as live blues music, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday starting at 9 p.m.