The chunk of city west of Swanston Street offers all the drinking action you could possibly need, from down and dirty beers in a former motorcycle workshop to lofty liquor at Lui Bar. If you're up to the challenge, see if you can find Melbourne's best hidden bars, or go for some high altitude fun at these rooftop bars.
CBD West bar crawl
This virtual cupboard of a bar holds just ten drinkers (standing up) – and is currently concerned with faithfully replicating the drinks from Robert Vermeire’s 1922 book Cocktails: How to Mix Them. Bar Americano is a proper, 1920s-style Italian bar. It’s a sleek space of black-and-white tiles with no seats, just a wooden ledge on which to lean with either cocktail or espresso.
Du Nord has already made a name for itself thanks to the sexy Swedishness of the fitout. Cocktails get a look in and the ever-changing list is 12-strong, featuring a fair whack of the nation’s favourite tipple: vodka. There's a big list of Scandinavian cider and beer or the option to take a punt of the $6.50 brown-bagged ‘mystery beer’.
Walking down the stairs at Golden Monkey is like walking into an artist's impression of an opium den. The room is attractive, with low-slung tables and cushy lounges that are perfect for larger groups, Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling and intricate wood partitioning around the space. It's tray service for the most part here, though there are a few spots at the bar.
The hype is for their Shinkansen-quick ordering technology – a newly introduced IPAD2 menu at each table – and the buzz is for their plush-but-not-pretentious decor and finely curated mise-en-scène. You feel a part of something grander as soon you set foot in the place, all crimson-hued seats, violet ottomans, manicured brown wood blinds, Kubrickian bowl seats and robo-house music.
In the showing off game, Lui Bar is your ace in the hole. It’s the sky-scraping drinks parlour with 55th floor panoramic views that’s attached to Vue De Monde and carrying all the wine and sharp service weight of the fine diner restaurant. Forget rooftops and secret back alley booze holes. Impressiveness is a Collins Street caper.
Located in a laneway off a laneway, Penny Blue is worth the search for those of you who love beer. Make yourself at home and sample some of the 100 craft beers and ciders on the menu. They've got three British-style hand pumps too. And if beer isn’t really your thing there’s a wine and cocktail list as well.
Housed in a narrow, shabby old building at the end of Sniders Lane, Sister Bella is the sibling of the late lamented Saint Jerome. Furnished with vintage flotsam and jetsam and staffed by heavily tattooed cool kids, it has a surprisingly calm and friendly vibe even on the busiest nights.
Workshop, at the corner of Elizabeth and A’Beckett streets, lies above a shop, up a heavily graffittied staircase. The motorcycle-workshop-turned bar has retained a good deal of its industrial character, but it also boasts a lovely semi-enclosed deck filled with houseplants and sunshine. We say ‘semi-enclosed’ because while it has plenty of windows, it’s lacking a roof, which lends the best part of Workshop a nicely ruinous feel.