The 7 Best Hidden Bars In Melbourne
Go forth! Explore!
Melburnians always brag about the city’s excellent foodie culture and unparalleled-by-anywhere-else-in-the-world-so-don’t-even-try coffee. So it should come as no surprise that they’re also super proud of the underground bar culture – sometimes so underground that they don’t even know about it. Here’s the 7 best hidden bars in Melbourne, perfectly ripe for discovery in your next trip.
#1 Sister Bella
Where: 22 Drewery Place (Enter via Sniders Lane), CBD
Melburnians will tell you that the best bars are down unremarkable alleyways. This is definitely true for Sister Bella, which has no outdoor signage. Once you walk down one alleyway covered in street art and turn down a smaller alleyway (also covered in street art), you’ll find a tiny door behind some bins. Keep an eye out for the “What goes up must come down” wall at the end. Sister Bella features a range of cocktails, weeknight specials, and delicious cheap pizza to boot.
Where: Level 1, 1 Flinders Lane, CBD
Hidden places don’t come more hidden than this. You have to ring a doorbell on an unmarked door to get inside Hihou (Japanese for “secret treasure” – talk about an appropriate name). It has a sleek Japanese décor, with low lighting and low seating. It’s got all the usual drinks, but if you’re looking for something particularly Japanese you can choose between variations of sake, umeshu (plum wine) and Japanese whisky (“Suntory time!”). Sitting by the floor-to-ceiling windows on the far side of the bar gives you beautiful night time views of Treasury Gardens.
Where: 169 Exhibition Street, CBD
1806 is a classic, cosy, cocktail bar on Exhibition Street. Named for the year the word “cocktail” first made it into the dictionary, the bar has an extensive menu with cocktails for every decade since then, plus the staff’s own inventions. It’s draped in red curtains with chandeliers hanging everywhere and you can sip from your cocktail from the comfort of velvet chair like some kind of royal. Underneath this bar is its little cousin, The Understudy, a private room serving deconstructed cocktails.
#4 The Alchemist
Where: 361 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Unlike the novel that shares its name, The Alchemist isn’t well-known by everyone – it’s another Melbourne secret. Its charming baroque couches and satin draperies are hidden beyond a just-visible sign on Brunswick Street. Blink and you’ll miss it. But it’s a great place to go if you’re feeling like something different, or want to step back in time. Real apothecary items from centuries ago accessorise the place. And the “Periodic Table” on display is a delightfully easy way to pick something when you’re spoilt for choice. The bartenders are adventurous too: ask them to make one of your own inventions and they’ll give it a go.
Where: Level 1, 301 Swanston Street, CBD
If you’ve walked down Swanston Street regularly, you may have seen the sign for Sahara from the other side of the road. But, chances are you haven’t seen the entrance. It’s a tiny staircase in between a bunch of lunch places. Three levels up is the apex – a beautiful rooftop with a bar and seating covered in coloured cushions for a Moroccan feel. Food and drinks are decently priced with specials every night and a super-long happy hour on Thursdays. This is also one of the few places in Melbourne where you can order shisha in a range of flavours – even bubblegum!
Where: Basement, 335 Flinders Lane, CBD
If you’re a fan of ‘80s throwbacks (like me), then you’ll love Bartronica. Firstly, it’s an arcade – OMFG. It’s got old school games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, plus all your nostalgic childhood consoles like Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64. Just remember to bring some change if you want to play. The sound is folk rock feat. the “dingdingding” of gaming machines. The drinks are named after ‘80s films, like Risky Business and Fatal Attraction. But there’s plenty of cider and beer on tap if you’re not in the mood for a cocktail. And the ice is shaped like Tetris. Tetris! If all that is not enough to drag you in, there’s also a little beer garden out back. (Also, on their opening night they parked a DeLorean out front).
#7 Pawn & Co
Where: Level 1, 402 Chapel Street, South Yarra
They say buying things when you’ve been drinking is not a good idea. To that, Pawn & Co say “pfft!” This establishment is a pawn shop with a bar in it. You can sell your stuff and buy other people’s – anything from furniture to taxidermy animals. And you can do it all while sipping on “Cocktail Pawn” such as the Death in the Afternoon (champagne and absinthe). You can spot its balcony from Chapel Street below, but you might have to dig a little to find the entrance (just like op shopping!) It’s a fun time, although you’ll want to keep an eye on your funds – unless you’re willing to splurge on vintage allsorts.
(Lead image: Sister Bella)