The central business district of Melbourne almost has a bar or more on every street. There are rooftop bars, basement bars, and everything in between. And a visit to the city wouldn’t be complete without checking out a few of them.
We booked a room in the city on Friday night and decided to visit two rooftop bars, and two basement bars.
My mum was worried. “There’s so much drunken violence in the city these days. It’s all over the news,” she warned. I was a little worried too. It had been years since I’d been out at night in the city. What would await?
Our first stop, in the late afternoon, was Madame Brussels. It calls itself a “rather fancy terrace and public house.” And oh my gosh, my golly, it really is rather fancy! And delightfully quirky. I discovered it one night when some work colleagues took me there. The “main palour” has a fake grass floor, trellises, and garden chairs. Outdoors, orange parasols are provided to customers to provide protection from the sun’s rays. The young male waiters wear an eclectic mix of white shorts, white trousers, and even bowler hats. One had a finely twirled moustache that would provide tough competition for most Rajput men.
The trendy afterwork crowd started to pour in. It was heartening to see quite a few Indians there with their workmates. My husband and I shared a jug of Mimosa cocktail, and then, alas it was time to move on to the next bar….
…. the Red Hummingbird. “A sophisticated urban secret. A hidden jewel, cryptic and coy”. It’s rooftop was jammed with the afterwork crowd so we sipped our chardonnay in the cocktail lounge. At 8 p.m. a DJ arrived to play some funky, jazzy house. However, with the sun setting, we soon decided to go underground to the first basement bar.
A short walk away, we stepped down into the secluded interior of The Gin Palace. Named after an infamous and frowned upon hospitality venue that existed down a dark Melbourne alleyway in the late 1800s, it’s known for its outstanding martinis. Nevertheless, we chose to drink Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic, against a backdrop of leopard print curtains.
Two young Indian guys were entertaining two white girls, on what looked to be a double date. Guys from privileged families in Australia to study perhaps? I couldn’t help wondering what their parents would think of their evening out if they knew.
Pearls Before Swine, “One Nation Underground” was playing as a very happy (tipsy?) customer made his way past us to the toilet. “Yeah, 1967!” he quoted the year of the track to my husband. On his return, he stopped by to make further conversation, “So, where are you from?” he asked. “India.” “Oh one of my workmates is from Sri Lanka. And I know quite a few Indians. They’re lovely people,” he responded. Unfortunately, he spoke with a British accent though, so I can’t claim that he was a friendly Australian.
The night was warm and balmy as we left the Gin Palace. It was around 10.30 p.m. but plenty of people were still out on the streets, including Indian families. Buskers serenaded the passers by. We strolled up Bourke Street to Hardware Lane, a lively narrow laneway filled with restaurants that spill out onto the pavement. Beneath one of them, the deep red interior of Charlies Bar “brings sophistication and class to Melbourne City’s Hardware Lane precinct.” It was our last stop for the night.
We returned to our room by midnight, unscathed. Perhaps we just weren’t out late enough. Or perhaps it was because we stayed away from the notorious nightclubs and stripclubs on King Street. What ever it was, we definitely got to see the enchanting side of the city.
For me, it was quite surreal. Although I used to work in the heart of the city, and have drank and dined in many of its establishments, it’s become like a stranger to me. I felt strangely displaced. I like it that way though. It leaves more room in my heart for Mumbai.