Follow the neon rainbow to discover MELBOURNE Melbourne’s bestkept secret bars
The Canary Club is muy authentico with flamenco, groovy fittings and mosaic tiles (right) WORDS CLAIRE AXELSON PHOTOGRAPHY JULIAN KINGMA
Gaining entry to Melbourne’s hidden laneway bars isn’t usually a problem... but finding them can be.
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N THE MID-19TH century, Melbourne’s centre started life as a carefully planned and executed city, with streets laid out in a strict grid formation. But somehow, twisting and weaving through the main streets, wayward lanes sprang up. These were frequently favoured by shady characters keeping out of reach of the long arm of the law. Today, the laneways provide the perfect setting for scores of hidden bars, relying solely on word of mouth and knowing patrons for trade. Melbourne’s barkeepers turn the old adage about all publicity being good publicity on its head. Here, it’s more a case of the best publicity being no publicity at all. Garish signs, tacky promotions and, God forbid, souvenir merchandise, have no place in Melbourne’s laneway bars. Even establishments in more obvious locations have taken up the challenge, locating themselves on dusty, disused floors of long-forgotten buildings. And out-of-towners please be warned: no self-respecting Melburnian would ever admit defeat as they comb laneway after laneway in search of that familiar door or distinctive cobblestone. “I know it’s around here somewhere,” the hapless local will cry, before striking it lucky and acting as if they knew exactly where they were going all along.
CANARY CLUB 6 Melbourne Place. (03) 9663 1983. www.canaryclub.com.au The hip, seductive Spanish cousin of Melbourne’s Hairy Canary Bar, the Canary Club is a restaurant/bar with a DJ on the weekends. Decor is Gaudi on the outside, mosaic tiles, groovy light fittings and dark wood on the inside,
creating a slick yet cosy feel. Food is classic tapas, best enjoyed lolling back on the day beds upstairs. Drinks are also Spanish – on the lengthy drinks list is a strong selection of sherries as well as Spanish beer and sangria. Tuesday night is flamenco night; Fridays and Saturdays feature the sounds of resident DJ Mark Mackay. MARCH 2008 QANTAS 67
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NEW GOLD MOUNTAIN Level 1/21 Liverpool Street. (03) 9650 8859. www.newgoldmountain.org If ever there was an award for Melbourne’s most obscure bar, New Gold Mountain would surely be a favourite. Above another classic Melbourne bar, Double Happiness, and tucked down a tiny laneway, the narrow entrance and rickety stairwell seem unlikely to lead to anything more than a downat-heel apartment. But once inside, swirls of colour, frills, fringes, cut-out screens and vivid wallpaper enliven the tiny space. A collection of obscure vodkas from Mongolia and Kazakhstan continues the esoteric theme. CHI LOUNGE 1/195 Little Bourke Street. (03) 9662 2688. www.chilounge.com.au Deep in the heart of Chinatown, the Chi Lounge does for karaoke bars what James Bond did for martinis. The decor is a luxurious modern take on an oriental theme, all chocolate tones and gold leaf. On the first floor, clusters of chairs and chesterfields make for cosy alcoves by the main bar. On the second, karaoke rooms, complete with plasma screens, allow groups to let loose in private, with a service bell to summon up the necessary liquid courage. THE CROFT INSTITUTE 21-25 Croft Alley. (03) 9671 4399. www. thecroftinstitute.com.au Socialising in a science laboratory-cum-hospital setting may not seem to be most people’s idea of a good time, but the Croft Institute’s
Does for karaoke what James Bond did for martinis Sarti has “adult contemporary” all stitched up (below and left)
Gold leaf and chocolate tones of Chinatown’s Chi Lounge add to the oriental feel (and below)
enduring success suggests otherwise. “A not-so-serious play on the pseudo-scientific consumer institutes used to advertise not-so-scientific consumer products,” promises the Croft Institute website. And from the beakers and science paraphernalia in the main room to the barred windows and surgical steel fittings, the theme is consistent. The men’s rooms are titled Department of Male Hygiene, while a third floor features a gymnasium theme complete with racquets and trophies.
SARTI 6 Russell Place. (03) 9639 7822. www.sarti.net.au To describe a bar as “adult contemporary” can risk conjuring up images of Michael Bolton and 1980s soft rock. But Sarti, once a tailor’s workshop, is a sleek restaurant and bar with modern Italian flair and a distinctively grown-up feel. Drinks include grappa and a range of Italian digestivos. Polished service, white linens and a terrace complete the experience.
LILY BLACKS 3/12-18 Meyers Place. (03) 9654 6499. www.lilyblacks.com.au A sophisticated, 1920s-inspired bar, the refined Lily Blacks features a creative cocktail menu with such varied ingredients as lemon myrtle liqueur, lingonberry syrup and muddled marigold flowers; and names such as Lily’s Lemonade, The 96 Tram and the Seventeen Dollar Milkshake. An equally sophisticated bar menu offers quince paste and chicken, whisky and rosemary pate. MARCH 2008 QANTAS 69
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MELBOURNE The 1920s rule at Lily Blacks
Glam it up and enjoy a drink at The Toff... or go upstairs for a show (right)
Art deco fittings, flickering candles and potted palms make this a fabulous place for making whoopee. THE TOFF Level 2, Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street. (03) 9639 8770. www.thetoffintown.com While not strictly a laneway bar, the glamorous Toff is a great find in historic Curtin House – once Communist Party headquarters and an adult cinema (not at the same time). On entry, there’s a show venue to the right and Toff’s Carriage bar to the left, featuring private booths styled as train compartments, each complete with sliding doors and service bell. Beyond, is an old-fashioned brass bar with a drinks menu the length of a novella.
‘‘ BAR LOURINHÃ 37 Little Collins Street. (03) 9663 7890. www.barlourinha.com.au Bar Lourinhã is the current darling of Melbourne’s foodie set, serving quality tapas in convivial surrounds. With a queue of hungry patrons watching eagerly, chef Matt McConnell serves up mouthwatering morsels made from innovative ingredients. Tastes from the menu include wagyu beef, yellow tail kingfish pancetta and homemade chorizo. But be warned: Bar Lourinhã attracts a crowd, so elbow room is at a premium. It doesn’t take dinner bookings, although they are available at lunchtime and for the function room, so you’ll just have to take your turn with all the other hungry hopefuls.
The glamorous Toff... once Communist Party headquarters
MURMUR 17 Warburton Lane. (03) 9640 0395. www.murmur.com.au Cuban-inspired Murmur was hard to find – until the City of Melbourne commissioned a 500kg chandelier art installation (on view until March 16) just outside the entrance. Inside, an antique pulley and trapdoor system dominate – a legacy from the building’s origins as a coffee and spice warehouse. So far, they haven’t had to eject anyone through the trapdoor, but with a drinks list stretching to absinthe, plus rum, whisky and tequila “tasting plates”, it’s possible things could get messy.
MANCHURIA 1/7-9 Waratah Place. (03) 9663 1997. Manchuria, for the geographically naïve, is at the north-eastern tip of China, bordering Mongolia, Siberia and North Korea. One suspects the bar Manchuria may not be terribly authentic. Historically, Manchuria was noted for its opium, shamans and geopolitics – not cocktails and sumptuous sofas. But after a couple of drinks in this Chinatown bar, authenticity just doesn’t matter. Cocktail highlights include the Manchuria Teapot Blaze for four – a blend of rum, cognac and malt served in a teapot.
For airfares call Qantas on 13 13 13 or visit qantas.com. For holiday packages to Melbourne call Qantas Holidays on 13 14 15.
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