I want you inside me – a guest blog featuring a prodigal daughterâs utterly biased guide to drinking in Melbourne.
The thing about a snifter in your hometown, particularly after a long absence, is itâs impossible to be objective. The return becomes a quest for what remains; the point of home is the comfort of nostalgia.
Donât get me wrong â Melbourne serves up cocktails that stand proudly beside Manhattan or Londonâs. But what really tastes good to me, is that which stayed the same. For reasons about to become obvious, letâs begin by discussing beer instead of martinis.
Youâre always welcome to burn your credit limit impressing me in swanky places. But for pure enjoyment: returning to an utterly unreconstructed old pub in Williamstown, which was a working class dockyards neighbourhood when I grew up there. Many, possibly most, of its 30-plus pubs back then only served draft beer. Now, the homes costs millions, yet some of the old boozers have yet to replace a tile. Just this month, in the Rose Hotel on Ferguson Street, three wags, with the sole purpose of winding up the barman, asked for a martini âshaken not stirredâ. He turned purple, never having mixed a drink in his long life. The moment was actually more delicious than his beer.
For good beer â a great selection of Cascade on tap â and bonhomie, I recommend the Morning Star on Electra Street. Contender for the best crap pub in the world ever: the Bristol, on Ferguson Street. Bear, the manager who looks like a â yes you guessed it â has been there for decades. First beer is always free. The cricket will be on. Those curmudgeonly old boys in front of it are the lads I grew up with.
Be aware that Australians are laid back about many things, except beer, and the measures are more baffling than ordering a coffee at Starbucks, so itâs wise to study up before ordering. Iâve included a handy guide below.
If you must do something fancy, ditch the day-trippers on Nelson Place, and head south to Sirens, in an art deco pavilion, on The Esplanade. Perfect end to the pub crawl? A dink home on the back of my mate Tommy Cannonâs bicycle â just like when I was 14.
Back in Melbourneâs centre, in search of a cocktail, I canât get past the loss of iconic Miettaâs in Alfred Place. My favourite cocktail memories involve my mucker from school days, John Brandl, and spending money here in our early twenties that we didnât really have. Politicians, thespians, artistsâ¦ and usâ¦ rubbed shoulders, hosted impeccably by Mietta OâDonnell. Itâs impossible to discuss fine dining and drinking in Melbourne without appreciating her influence â some further reading below. And itâs hard to believe Johnâs classmate Bill Shorten is now Opposition leader. Thereâs been some terrible mistake if it transpires that now we are the grown ups.
Like a lot of Melbourne watering holes, Miettaâs was tucked down a little lane. Wandering through moody alleys is a charming feature of drinking in the centre, one old favourite of which remains: The Gin Palace on Little Collins Street. Getting back on topic here, The Gin Palace specialises in martinis. Ask if theyâre still doing the Luis Bunuelâs Surrealist martini, ârecipe from My Last Sighâ, for which all the ingredients are frozen for two days.
For hipster chic you must head to Fitzroy. This happened: walking down Brunswick Street, post beverage consumption, aware of a head here and there turning, and thinking, âI must have scrubbed up okay today,â before taking off the shades to realise my admirers were all women. Oh well, Iâll take it, anyway.
Melbourneâs best cocktail bar is The Black Pearl on Brunswick Street and has been forever. Its menu is the sonnet of cocktail lists. Order anything you like â youâll be seducedâ¦ memorably. Also on Brunswick Street, the Rum Diary Bar, named after the Hunter S Thompson novel. Highlights would be espresso martinis, with coffee pressed out of a lovely old machine, dark rum and vanilla; or the flaming Bacardi 151 served in half a passionfruit.
But did I learn any new tricks? Yes, without the option of Miettaâs, John took me somewhere new â and I highly recommend it. Trunk bar and restaurant at 275 Exhibition Street, back in the centre, in the former Yikveh Yisrael synagogue and school, built in 1859. Inside the old building, with its fabulous vaulted ceiling and old wooden floor, is where the cocktail magic happens. Try the Rooftop martini, with Wyborowa vodka, honey from the barâs own bees (up on the roof) shaken with white grapes and apple juice.
Almost as delightful is the diner outside, offering a good drinks menu including Bloody Marys with âsecret sauceâ; Lick Pier alcoholic ginger beer, and Two Hands âgnarly dudesâ Shiraz. But almost more appealing are the Aussie-centric milkshakes. These include Tim Tam Slam, Liquid Lamington, and Golden Gaytime â all taken from the after-school treats we grew up with. New trick meets nostalgia â check.
And on the Trunk diner window, a neon sign of a guy in a cap holding a lager fresh from the tap, reads âI want you inside meâ. Ah yes, particularly in the Australian summer of now, thereâs hardly a beer I meet that wouldnât illicit that response.
About the Blogger: Lise Colyer heads up the London-based corporate marketing and communications consultancy What’s Your Story? She’s known to enjoy a tipple in foreign cities near and far. Lise can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Restaurants and Bars mentioned in the article
Sirens restaurant in Williamstown
About Mietta OâDonnell
Gin Palace, in the centre
Black Pearl Bar, Fitzroy
Rum Diary Bar, Fitzroy
Trunk bar and restaurant, in the centre
State by state Australian beer size breakdown*
|New South Wales and ACT|
|Beer (some pubs)||200ml||7 ounces|
|Schooner (some pubs)||425ml||15 ounces|
|Middy (some pubs)||285ml||10 ounces|
|Five (some pubs)||140ml||5 ounces|
|Seven (some pubs)||7 ounces|
|Ten (some pubs)||285ml||10 ounces|
|Ten or Pot/Handle||285ml||10 ounces|
|Small Beer||115ml||4 ounces|
|Small Glass||170ml||6 ounces|
|Pot (see comments below)||575ml||20 ounces|
Table reproduced with permission from AustralianBeers.com.