Catch the last rays of summer at Union Electric’s new rooftop gin garden
Laneway bars are synonymous with Melbourne, and Union Electric has effortlessly woven itself into the fabric of the city. Owners Huw Griffiths and Shane Whiteley have been part of institutions like Madame Brussels and the Royal Saxon, so when they struck out on their own, it’s no surprise they captured the hearts of city drinkers.
Fresh produce is serious stuff at Union Electric. While many bars may avoid using too many raw ingredients, Union Electric use daily pressings of fruits, micro herbs and housemade vinegars and syrups to bring their menu to life. A section dedicated to spiked apple juice is a cheap and cheerful way to take in the sun from their courtyard. Just 11 smackers will get you freshly pressed apple juice with a touch of citrus and a choice between rum, gin or whisky. For a more dangerous concoction, there are tiki offerings like the Piña Colada and Fogcutter. The deadly Zombie featuring three kinds of rum, absinthe and a myriad of mystery ingredients is limited to a maximum of two per person – proceed with caution.
Wines are not forgotten, with a smart selection made due to the friendships with wine professionals that Griffiths and Whiteley have struck up over the years. Drops are mostly local and smashable, such as the Vinteloper 2016 pinot gris or a prosecco from the King Valley, but they’ve played to their inner Francophiles for chablis and syrah and also dedicated a section to the range of Château D’Esclans Whispering Angel rosés, which is their pick for best rosé in the world.
Gin lovers can rejoice, as the Union Electric has opened their rooftop gin bar just in time for summer. Longtime staff member Ella Neilson is in charge, and shining a light on Aussie gins and botanicals, as well as serving up lighter gin and vermouth-based cocktails. Union Electric is restricted by space, so the food comes from nearby Chinatown restaurants. Ask their staff for their favourite haunts, but let it be known: kebabs are strictly forbidden.
You might need to fight for tables with sun exposure during the warmer months, but if you’re not a sun-worshipper, there is vitamin-D free booth seating and stools next to the bar top. Union Electric may not be the place you catch up for a quiet drink though, because for them, living it up is just simply living.
And if you head upstairs...
Union Electric is a genius reclamation of a previously disused alley between two Chinatown buildings. After opening a couple of years ago, this cocktail-slinging, old-school rapping little bar quickly became a Melbourne favourite. Now they’ve done it again by reclaiming even more space, this time upstairs, with a new rooftop gin garden.
As you head up the stairs from ground level there’s a wide landing halfway where folks lounge with drinks like it’s a Brooklyn stoop. Squeeze your way up to the solid copper bar, or hover for a seat. Staff will take your order at the tables, surrounded by brickwork and potted palms. It’s always good to have a glass of rosé or a beer in hand for perusing the menu, so a refreshing Pineapple Unplugged American pale ale from Brewski in Sweden is a good place to start. There’s also an easygoing Sample lager, or an outstanding American pale ale from local heroes Boatrocker Brewery, if you prefer a little hops. Speaking of hops, the rap soundtrack matches the head-bumping downstairs, perfect for a sunny evening of lively conversation.
Behind the stick, some of the friendliest bartenders in Melbourne are still smiling through the sweat of a hot Friday evening shift and cranking out high quality drinks. The cocktails on offer focus on the tropical and/or classic with a few cracking originals thrown in for good measure. The Lola, for example, can only be described as straight-up delicious. Imagine that a Piña Colada made sweet love to gin and fresh ginger, birthing a complex lovechild both clever and fun. Like all the cocktails here, it's beautiful, too, served in vintage-style glass and garnished with a rainbow of flowers, citrus peel and pineapple leaves.
But what of the gin in this gin garden? There’s enough Dutch courage here to keep you floating home on a cloud of juniper like Mary Poppins with her brolly out. The list is divided into Australia & NZ, England and Places Other Than, with over 30 gins available and more added all the time. Each is presented as it should be: over lots of good ice and with carefully selected garnishes and tonics. And while there’s nowhere near the number of juniperous spirits here as at Gin Palace, a) there’s still an excellent range of quality styles and b) you did hear us say rooftop, right?
On a rooftop in the Melbourne CBD, you don’t have to do things this well. It’s nice to see the Union crew sticking to their guns and doing something above and beyond the expected. So, while you’re soaking in the last of our always too-short summer, grab a beer while they make your cocktail and cut these guys some slack if it takes a sec to get to you. Like this bar, it’s worth the wait.
|Venue name:||Union Electric Bar|
13 Heffernan Ln
|Opening hours:||Daily 5pm-1am|
|Transport:||Nearby stations: Parliament|