Perhaps the most unusual thing about Section 8 is that it’s still here. It is Melbourne’s longest-ever pop-up bar, first surfacing in 2006 with low overheads in a Chinatown car park, and then just never leaving. There’s not a clean line in the place, with graffiti and stickers covering almost every surface. White waistcoated waiters are nowhere to be seen, replaced with tattooed funky types who are very happy to walk you through the ever-changing beer list, shake a cocktail or dole out generous pours of wine. Section 8 is an outdoor drinking space, but the smells of nearby Chinatown eateries and smoke (from cigarettes and, sometimes, other things) mean you won’t be mistaking it for a brasserie en plein air. It’s as Melbourne as it gets, and we’re happy to report that means pure rock’n’roll.
The bar is in a converted shipping container (as are the toilets, so enter at your own risk), and of course it’s down an alley. Anything goes here, with a basketball hoop out the front available if you’re inspired to give it a go (just ask George, the bar’s super-friendly bouncer, for the ball) and taps available for DIY water.
But this is a bar, and you are obviously not here for the water. There are a few beers on tap and a lot more in bottles and tinnies, with craft brews and sours rotating through the inventory. Most drinkers are here for the beer, though there is a decent selection of liquor behind the bar and a list of a dozen or so seasonal cocktails. Wine is available in sparkling, white, rose, red and goon, which tells you about how seriously this bar takes wine – and itself.
That is not to say that bartenders can’t make a delicious cocktail here. The Straw-Back Tom, made with Poor Tom strawberry gin, Chamberyzette strawberry vermouth, lemon, rose lemonade, black pepper and plenty of fresh strawberries, is surprisingly well balanced, with the sweetness of the strawberries enlivened by the acidity of the lemon and slight peppery bite. It’s as refreshing as a dip in a cold pool on a hot day, a fruit-forward cocktail that doesn’t stray into syrupy, Slushie territory. The Machine Gun Megan (Casamigos Reposado tequila, Vida mezcal, spiced syrup, lemon and fresh nutmeg) tastes like the love child of eggnog and a Margarita and it’s absolutely delicious.
The drinks are only part of what makes Section 8 Melbourne's go-to alleyway party bar. Music is king here, with an always interesting rotation of tunes playing during the day and some of Melbourne’s best DJs hosting epic parties until 1am. Dance parties are frequent – and they are always, always free. We’re pretty glad this pop-up decided to stick around.