No one does hidden bars quite like Melbourne. We've got a bar located down a cramped laneway, one behind a fridge door, one behind a bookshelf and a closet of a bar that barely fits eight people. Consider this list a scavenger hunt of Melbourne's most interesting secret bars, and remember where they are for next time.
Hidden bars in Melbourne
The bar is a command centre at the heart of this tiny room, with only a handful of seats facing Hayden Lambert as he dispenses drinks that put the art back into artisanal.
In the basement at the end of an alley, Beneath Driver Lane feels equal parts Melbourne, Chicago and Diagon Alley. The folks behind the bar are all practised professionals; personable, knowledgeable and looking sharp in black chef coats. What they’re mixing up is pretty sharp, too.
Burrow underground to the Paris-via-New York brasserie Bar Margaux, a place where oysters are shucked, Champagne popped and steaks sizzled until the tiniest of hours (5am on Fridays and Saturdays). Time itself seems to melt away in this meticulously realised world where candlelight glows suggestively through Georgian wire glass partitions, where lipstick-red booths curve around marble tabletops and the only thing on the cards is indulgence.
This leafy courtyard bar with chilled tropical vibes and tiki masks is hidden behind a fake fridge at the back of sandwich shop Boston Sub. Just go into the fridge and keep going.
A nondescript, dumpster-strewn alley no more, Mornane Place has finally borne fruit with the arrival of a very late night bar with some seriously good eats. A city cannot have too many places like Arlechin. Beneath the sexily arched cork-lined ceiling lurks a place that feels like a subterranean clubhouse. Try the Bolognese jaffle.
House of Correction, the cocktail bar downstairs from the Goldilocks rooftop, reflects the effortless class and hospitality Melbourne has come to represent. The cocktails on offer are made by some of Melbourne's friendliest and most experienced bartenders. Allocated numbers not names, these concoctions show up quickly even on a packed night, served elegantly in frozen glassware and garnished simply with a long twist of lemon, a pineapple leaf or a wedge of pink grapefruit.
The city’s oldest pub has a secret. Loch and Key is hidden up a rickety staircase, behind a bookcase in the Captain Melville bar. Loch and Key is best known as a late-night reveller, when the couch-filled warren of rooms come to life, but its early evening appeal shouldn't be ignored, as the balcony is a beautiful spot to watch the sun go down.
Bartenders pull out all the stops – and the liquid nitrogen – at this city speakeasy offering a magical mystery tour of history’s greatest drinks. There is even a whole room dedicated to whisky.
A disruptive, all-standing, ten-person cocktail bar, it’s modelled after the stand-up Italian cafés where you have a lean, an espresso, a pastry, and quickly leave. Don’t expect to have more than a couple of cocktails here: there’s usually a line of customers behind you waiting to get in and exerting the moral pressure. The list is unapologetically, exclusively classics. The staff make them with expert precision; Americano has produced some of the city’s best bartending talents.
Everybody knows about Black Pearl, but did you know that there's another cocktail bar upstairs? It's only open from Thursday to Sunday, and you'll need to buzz into the Attic to get in, but make the most of the wonderful table service if you manage to get in.
Keep your eyes open or you might miss Hihou's entrance on Flinders Lane, near the corner of Spring Street. The cocktails at this sultry sake den are given reverential treatment and are peppered with yuzu, umeshu (plum wine) and shochu (grain spirit), but come hungry and make a meal out of the excellent bar snacks list.
At Trinket, there’s a staff member whose sole responsibility is advising people to turn a giant key that opens the door to the main bar, and another who is keeping tabs on how many have gone through the wardrobe down into the cellar bar below. There is a real twist – behind the overwrought premise is simply a fun, big-ticket cocktail lounge that saves you from going to another boring corporate bar in the city.
Look for the big shiny lightning bold pinpointed by light globes among Chinatown's dumpling signs, and you'll find this chilled out cocktail lounge.
This swanky bar and restaurant Melbourne boasts a super secret cellar bar that you have to access via a bookcase. State of Grace isn't a one trick pony though, with the venue featuring three levels of fun from the ground level restaurant to the rooftop bar. Previously located on Collins Street, State of Grace made the move to King Street midway through 2018. It's just as mind-bogglingly kitsch as you remember it and we get the feeling even regulars haven't seen everything.
Its big sister, 1806, has a tasteful if very hard-to-see sign, but downstairs hidden Understudy has a bit of a speakeasy vibe. The cocktail list is full of undiscovered adventures too, including Smoke and Mirrors, which showcases Woodford Reserve Bourbon infused with chorizo sausage (that's right, sausage).
Brought to you by the team responsible for city drinking holes Sister Bella, Ponyfish Island and 1000 Pound Bend, Footscray's Back Alley Sally's is bringing the crew's signature good time bar vibes to the west. They've picked a suitable laneway location in Footscray, and they're setting up above sister venue Slice Girls West, which is dishing out pizzas, burgers and toasties to hungry punters.
Keeping the citizens of Camberwell fed and watered, this unmarked hole-in-the-wall bar is a haven of craft beers and Cajun snacks.
Tucked above a Chinese dumpling house, two-tiered Goldilocks offers seductive booths and a view-blessed rooftop, with easy-drinking cocktails and beers.
Above Polepole restaurant, this African-themed cocktail lounge is all canvas tents, animal prints and safari swagger.
Just getting to the Croft Institute feels like a little adventure. It's located at the bottom end of Croft Alley, and the bar is spread over three floors, each dimly lit and infused with a slightly creepy atmosphere. Grab a cocktail from the downstairs bar and watch it being made with some intense medical equipment.