A St Kilda pub with a three-storey, glass and concrete atrium for year-round beer garden vibes
The Village Belle was for years a symbol of the seedy side of St Kilda. In the dim front bar, old blokes sank pots of Draught and, bleary eyed, watched dogs run in circles. On weekends, sozzled and sun-scorched backpackers thronged the dance floor. But after a much-needed renovation at the start of this year, the Belle has found a new life as a bright and broadly appealing community hub for locals and tourists alike.
The front bar is still fundamentally a sporting venue, although it looks (and smells) much better than it did before, with updated decor and plenty of natural light. Screens playing all manner of match and race can be seen around the room, and there’s a TAB for placing your bets. They’ve kept the pokies (unfortunately) but they’re hidden out the back, far from the families enjoying a pub meal on a bright Sunday arvo. With chipper and efficient service and plenty of crowd-pleasing drink options, this is a solid and approachable sports bar.
But the biggest change is to the back side of the building, converted into a three-storey glass and concrete atrium billed as a “year-round beer garden”. Fans slice rhythmically through the bright sunlight pouring through the glass ceiling, illuminating full-sized indoor trees and pots overflowing with tropical foliage. It’s big, airy and bright, the perfect spot to while away the arvo with a few beers – mostly commercial but with a good showing from Four Pines if you prefer local craft. Cocktails are a big win here, all fresh and beautifully presented. They’re playing the early 2000s hits and nailing every note, with Cosmos, Mojiotos and the glorious Porn Star Martini – a hedonistic mix of vanilla vodka and fresh passionfruit topped with sparkling wine. The staff are also surprisingly friendly on this packed and sunny spring day, despite the onslaught of punters.
The food menu is wide-ranging, with everything from duck liver parfait and fresh oysters to pork belly bao, steaks, pizza, pasta and whole baby snapper with tamarind caramel. Everything we tried was fine, neither excellent nor actively bad. A starter of good sourdough comes served with under-seasoned white bean puree and overly sweet olive jam, and a traditional Caesar salad calls to mind room service at a mid-level hotel. Salt and pepper calamari comes on a bed of zippy and verdant herb puree, but the rings themselves are stringy and lacking in flavour. It’s a shame because there’s much hype on the website about chef Mathew Macartney (former Executive Chef of The Lake House, Daylesford) and his local and sustainable menu. Maybe it should have just said, “grab a parma and enjoy the sun”.
The Village Belle is a venue that’s trying to be all things to all people: a cocktail bar, a family pub, a fun-times beer garden, a modern bistro and an old school sports boozer. It’s a model that usually fails, too unfocused to get anything right. But the new Belle is big enough, efficient enough and smart enough to pull it off, providing St. Kilda with the sort of community hub that was sorely lacking.
|Venue name:||The Village Belle Hotel|
202 Barkly St
|Opening hours:||Mon-Wed 9am-1am; Thu-Sat 9am-3am; Sun 10am-midnight|