In the age of Tinder and Grinder, the dating game has become a matter of swipes and clicks rather than flowers and flirting. Your emoji game is now more important than your dance moves, your puppy pics getting your more credit than your table manners. But for those who long for the thrill of a totally random shag with no mutual friends or “shared interests”, fear not. Below is our list of the top ten bars in Melbourne where you can still pick up the old-fashioned way; through drinking and conversation. Good luck out there, Melbourne.
Please note: We have edited the entries for Loch & Key, Gin Palace and Gasometer in light of valued feedback from our readers. Time Out Melbourne is a strong supporter of the hospitality community and in no way tolerates harassment, assault or exploitation of power dynamics in any way. Time Out aims to foster a culture of respect and consent, and believes everyone has the right to feel safe in their workplace. The aim of this article is to guide our readers towards the best places to meet people in bars, rather than online.
Melbourne's 10 best pick-up bars
If you love to boogie, but EDM just ain’t your thing, Cherry Bar on a Thursday night is where you need to be. A live band residency rotates every month, and the acts are hand-picked for danceability. Afterwards, DJs spin soul, Motown and old school funk tunes until 3am and the room writhes like a scene from Dirty Dancing. The crowd is always super friendly and diverse in age and sexuality, and if you’ve got any old school moves, it’s nice to be able to dance WITH somebody, instead of just near them. A strictly enforced “no dickheads” policy also means respect is mandatory, a key factor making this an epic spot to find love (or at least a dirty pash).
Black Pearl is always counted among the best places in Melbourne to take a date. The crew here won’t tolerate any aggressive or sleazy behaviour, and ride the line between fun and classy better than most, so you can flirt openly and feel safe at the same time. But this little bar gets high on our list for more long-term reasons: At last count, Pearl was directly responsible for over a dozen marriages, and those are just the ones they know about. This includes manager Chris Hysted, who met his wife across the bar here, and is now expecting a baby. So if you’re looking for long-term love, Black Pearl is the best bet by far. Match.com wishes they had a success rate this good.
The Toff has everything you need for a successful rendezvous: Dance floor? Check. Cocktails with charming bartenders? Check. Private booths for a sneaky snog? Check and mate. According to former manager Johnathan Minihan, “people usually meet on the dance floor, then come across to sit in one of the booths and make out. But sometimes there aren’t enough booths, so the couples have to share.”
More often than not, the conversation really starts to flow when it’s closing times at most bars. Keep the night going by heading to Loch & Key, the ultra-late night hospo bar above Captain Melville on Franklin Street. It’s a great place for a pint and chat long into the wee hours, and the crew aren’t shy about a stern word for anyone crossing the line.
On any given night at this longstanding Collingwood pub, punters of all ages, genders and sexualities are eating free pies while watching women’s AFL, listening to live bands, or sweating their glitter make-up off at a raging queer electro dance party. The Gaso also works with LISTEN, a taskforce addressing sexual harassment and gender parity in music venues, and have implemented gender-neutral bathrooms, and at least one female security guard at all times. Sexuality of all kinds is very much on show here, and there’s plenty of fun on the dancefloor to be had, as well as good conversation by the fire.
Melbourne’s best approximation of an American dive bar is a prime spot for pick-ups. According to bartender Josh Crawford who slings whisky just up the road at Boilermaker House and frequents Heartbreaker regularly, “the staff there are great social lubricant, and a game of pool is a perfect icebreaker/pick-up line.” Banging tunes on the jukebox, plenty of whisky and a safe and fun environment all help bolster the likelihood of a random encounter. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, everyone looks hot lit by neon.
Former bartender Tom Ambroz reckons this late-night laneway venue is a great place to pick up, especially for blossoming workplace romances. “We got a lot of after work drinks in, and you can tell when workmates had been eyeing each other off for a while. We had a pair once who just waited until all their colleagues were gone, then immediately started making out, hard. We let them go for a while, but when she kicked their cocktails off the table trying to mount him we had to ask them to leave. About an hour and a half later as we were closing up we found them outside near a pile of boxes.”
We had to include at least one proper nightclub in the list, and our vote goes to a place that lives up to its name. Manager Miro Mihaly deserves his own podcast for his deadpan recounts of the ridiculous scenes of trashiness he witnesses on King Street every weekend. Like that one time he busted a pair of inebriated youngsters consummating their lust in a toilet cubicle. “They kept on telling me to wait so they could finish, and when they finally open the door they’re still only half dressed. The girl shoves her underpants in my face and says, ‘Can I at least put these back on!?’”. Hoo boy. If you want to cruise the dance floor looking for love in the dark, Tramp is your place. Just leave your panties on until you get home.
Leonard’s is basically a house party from an 80s movie. The kind where the all the cool kids are gonna be and you’ll finally have a chance to chat up the person of your dreams. This is a place where the beautiful people who usually frequent the glitzy clubs of Chapel Street might come to find a way to piss off their parents – by picking up a partner clad in leather and tats. Pop outside for a smoke, challenge someone to a game of darts, share a bowl of charcoal chicken fries or find a squishy old couch to sink into while the kick-ass crew sling beer, whisky and cocktails with a wink and a smile.
When the evening has gone well...
Our fair city wears the mantle of ‘Late Night Champion’ with pride. Nowhere else in the country can you party at all hours, and then go out for a civilised meal into the bargain. These are the best late-night eats to keep the pep in your party step for nights when you need to soak up some of those high spirits, or maybe you’re just not ready for the night to be over. For more late-night antics, peruse our guides to Melbourne's best late night bars, nightclubs and bars for dancing.