Exit the Kitten Club; enter the East African-inspired cocktail bar with banging bar snacks
Polēpolē, Swahili for “take it easy”, is both name and motto for the new, East-African inspired bar which has set up shop in the old Tony Starr’s Kitten Club. What was once a known as a sleazy watering hole, bandroom and home of the Love Lounge is now bringing the deep and sweet flavours that owners and husband-and-wife team Dean and Jeanelle Mariani encountered on their travels.
Now, if you’ve never tried biltong, you need to get to Polēpolē. They make theirs in-house and it is the closest rendition of the traditional South African jerky available in Melbourne. It’s thickly sliced, smoky, slightly sweet, slightly salty and completely addictive. Team it with one of their crisp African beers such as the Tusker Malt from Kenya, Phoenix Golden Ale from Mauritius or Windhoek Lager from Namibia.
Cocktail names give cheeky hints at Africa, such as the Mzungu Martini, a riff on the espresso martini made with rum, Crème de Cassis and espresso. The Dr Livingstone sees tequila, red vermouth and blood orange served in a martini glass, and is all too easy to throw back. Be careful.
The food comes under the consultation of Andy Mac of Axil Coffee Roasters. Think crispy squid ink crackers with curried slices of bream; salty logs of fried pork cigars with cinnamon and pomegranate molasses, just made for beers; corn and chickpea patties that are perfect platforms for their okra garnish; and beer-friendly harissa-spiced lamb ribs. The bar food is better than most around town, and the fire, salt and dusty spices are a welcome change from the majority of the Asia-centric snacks in most Melbourne cocktail bars.
Drinking at Polēpolē comes with the bonus of knowing a percentage of the profits are donated to YGAP and Women for Women in Africa – volunteer organisations supporting communities in Africa. It’s all the more reason to pull up a chair at the long, dark bar where wood and exposed concrete create highlights around the room. Hakuna matata? Nah, polēpolē.
267 Little Collins St
|Opening hours:||Sun-Thu 4-11pm; Fri-Sat 4pm-1am|
|Transport:||Nearby stations: Flinders Street; Melbourne Central; Parliament|