Kate reviews: Spotlight on Melbourne’s city bars
Well, she’s slowly opening up, dear Melbourne, and while we’re definitely stretching our legs and wallets and trying to get to some to some of our favourites bars and eateries, the challenge is really there for operators in our unusually quiet CBD. Things get even tougher for city bars, who have relied in the past on an after-work crowd that just aren’t heading in to work anymore.
Right in the heart of the city, there are some new bars, and some absolute classics, that are well worth a look if you want to take advantage of some free or cheap parking, and a serious lack of crowds.
80 Collins Street via 11 Benson Walk, Melbourne
I think these guys managed to open for THREE nights before the second wave caused a more severe lockdown. One of the first venues in the exciting new 80 Collins Street development to open, it’s the vision from proven operators “The Speakeasy Group”, who already run wildly popular bars Eau de Vie, Boilermaker House and bar/restaurant Mjolner in Melbourne.
So this new venue is an opulent, indulgent, 1930s themed bar specialising in cocktail and champagnes, but with plenty of drinks and some seriously fun snacks on the menu.
The interiors are superb, plenty of velvet, wood-panelled ceilings, decadent booths, and a gorgeously backlit bar.
As is de rigueur for these guys, cocktails are unique and thoughtful – the Burnt Butter Old Fashioned could have been on the dessert list; the Smoky Bandit martini boasted Beefeater gin, paperbark-smoked port, dry sherry, and house orange bitters – it packed a punch. They’re fairly priced around the low $20 mark.
Of course, in these COVID times, you’ll need to book, luckily this place has plenty of separate rooms and boasts two balconies. I think the one thing we’ll need to exercise as we return to a hospitality industry now overburdened with regulations and administration is a sense of patience. These guys need to do table service, where they may not have otherwise; patrons are spaced across huge areas to stay safe; and in a basically brand new operation like this that’s on top of just getting to know a new team, venue and menu.
It took us a fair bit longer than we expected to get our order – we’re talking well over half an hour for our first drink. But the funny thing is, the service was friendly and polite, the space was decadent, and we were so rapt to be out, it just didn’t worry us. Plus, the snacks and drinks turned out to be worth the wait.
So what did we eat? It’s a concise, snacky menu. You can let them decide with a meat & cheese board, or select your own creative, refined canapes. We devoured the Whipped Savarin tart, that usually gooey cheese was ultra light, in a crisp pastry cup. Taramasalata was piped onto crispy potato chips. But the standout were the Beef Chicharrones. The Mexican dish traditionally consists of fried pork belly pieces, not unlike scratchings. Here, they use beef, dust the crunchy bits in Moroccan Ras-el-Hanout spices, and fill it with a salty Oyster Cream – it was unbelievably good.
It’ll be tough for Nick and Nora’s as the regulatory goalposts continue to shift, but these are experienced operators who will have everything under control by the time we hit COVID-normal, this is bound to be one of the city’s most popular bars.
33 Russell St, Melbourne
Well, so far I’ve had two bookings to drink and dine at Andrew McConnell’s new “Gimlet at Cavendish House”, and no, I still haven’t managed to get through the door. In July, when I prepared to celebrate a 10 year anniversary, we went into stage three, and when I rebooked for what seemed a safe late-September, I was smashed by stage four.
But, Gimlet is finally opening on November 24, and it promises to be a stunner. Housed in a beautiful art deco building, Gimlet boasts a central bar, where you might enjoy oysters and cocktails; leather booths for a more laid back stay; and timber tables with white tablecloths for the real restaurant experience; the food is classic European bistro.
While the rules are pretty restrictive, they’re opening for “private brunches, lunches and dinners” – so get a group together and be among the first to experience this one.
37 Little Collins St, Melbourne
This Melbourne icon is back, one of the city’s first tapas bars and an absolute favourite among the 3AW team, Bar Lourinha pivoted during lockdown with Weekend Boxes, and fun little snacks in some of our gourmet food stores. But, with a little help from the City of Melbourne via an outdoor patio, they’ll be running three sittings for dinner each evening from Wednesday to Saturday, plus lunches on Friday and Saturdays, with dining indoors and out, and the warm hospitality they are famous for.
Try their trademark Yellow Tail Kingfish pancetta; some spiced cauliflower croquettes, and more.
20 Presgrave Pl, Melbourne
There was always going to be some interesting silver linings out of the pandemic, and Bar Americano was recipient of one of them. This tiny laneway bar is famous for being licensed for TWELVE standing patrons only. Opened in 2011 as an homage to the Golden Age of drinking, or the great “American Bar”, it’s dedicated to doing classic drinks seriously well. As you can imagine, it can be tough to get in sometimes. So with local councils doing what they can to help venues increase patronage by being able to use appropriate outdoor areas, Bar Americano have actually INCREASED their patronage, with room for 20 more punters outside on tables in the laneway. JACKPOT! Definitely worth getting in for what they say is the world’s best Negroni.