Finding the perfect local pub can be tricky, especially when Melbourne’s suburbs are changing quicker than the traffic lights at Flinders Street junction. We’ve been on the hunt for Melbourne’s best neighbourhood pub for a good long while now—you know, the kind of place you drop into for a drink and end up staying for dinner—and thankfully, Collingwood institution, The Gem Bar, has heard our calling.
Run by Tonino Cordisco, who has spent the past 4 years perfecting the venue’s unique Melbourne-via-Texas flavour, The Gem Bar is part traditional pub, part low and slow BBQ restaurant. Having set the standard for smoked meat in Melbourne, the kitchen here just keeps on stepping up its game, plus the front bar and dining areas have got all the character of a local pub that you’ll literally never want to leave. So, why should you be hot-footing it down there?
#1: You’ll be eating some of the best bloody BBQ in Australia
It’s no secret that The Gem’s team takes a yearly trip to Texas to brush up on their BBQ skills. Making it one of the most in-the-know barbecue venues in Australia when it comes to juicy meat, fish and smoky veg, aka. Americana pub food. We’ve never had a disappointing meal here: In fact, quite the opposite. If you’re a BBQ die-hard you HAVE to go for the ‘feed me’ menu, which dishes up five incredible meaty bites, along with five sides. Think all the brisket, hotlink sausages, wings, ribs, mac’n’cheese, slaw and cornbread that you can eat, plus they can cater to vegos and pescatarians too. Nobody’s going hungry here, people.
#2: There are two whole stories to check out
Unlike some of Melbourne’s tiny venues where you’ll be squished up next to your neighbours, elbowing them every time you try to shove a forkful of pork into your mouth, The Gem Bar has two massive floors of dining space, as well as private dining rooms and an entirely separate bar on the upper level. If you’re bringing your #squad, they’ll make sure there’s a seat for all of them.
#3: Better yet, they’ll let you eat for free!
No, we’re not kidding. Looking to lock in a birthday BBQ feast? If it’s your birthday and you book a table for your mates at The Gem, they’ll make sure that your meal and your very first (of many…) birthday drink is on them. Hey, who doesn’t want to celebrate their birthday in a mountain of meat?!
#4: It’s got more soul than Aretha Franklin snacking on a bowlful of southern wings
We’re all too aware that bars come and go in Melbourne, but we’re pretty sure that The Gem will be there for many moons to come. Why? Because it’s got genuine soul. The walls are covered with vintage Elvis posters, cowboy boots and the odd Stetson hat because they guys here live and breathe what they do. Unlike some hyper-stylised, too-cool-for-school venues that we’ll let remain nameless.
#5: You could win a holiday to Bali just by buying a pint!
We’re not gonna lie, we love getting a little something for free, but something as epic as a trip for two to Bali?! Every Friday from 4pm until 7pm, The Gem runs its usual week day happy hour ($3 pots and $6 pints, with added weekly drinks specials) with the added bonus of the chance to win a BBQ platter for two. And, if you’re the lucky winner, you’ll be added into a draw to win a holiday to Bali next winter. Cross those fingers and get sipping!
#6: Tuesdays–Fridays = Half-price heaven
On top of prizes, every week day from 4pm until 7pm, you’ll find the very best tacos, Southern-style buffalo wings and loaded Texas fries (ie. hot chips covered in jalapenos, melted cheese, spring onions and chipotle aioli) for half-price. That means you can have a feast of all three for less than $20…or three servings of the loaded fries? Hey, #cleaneating has never been my strong point.
#7: They’re reviving live music, one gig at a time…
Melbourne’s live music scene has undergone a transformation over the past few years, as noise laws threaten some of the best gig venues in the city. At The Gem Bar, they’re sticking hard and fast to their live music roots, and even throwing in some karaoke to boot! Weekly blues, bluegrass, and Americana-influenced gigs take place in the front bar, with annual parties dedicated to Cinco de Mayo, Johnny Cash and the late, great Elvis.
If you’re a karaoke fiend, get yourself to The Gem on Grand Final Eve, when a live band accompanies the venue’s legendary Johnny Cash karaoke night. You’re in for one hell of a party.
#8: They love a Sunday session
Actually, they love a Saturday session too. Weekends, weeknights, whatever, you can’t knock this classic pub.
Editor's note: This article is proudly sponsored by The Gem Bar and endorsed by The Urban List. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who make The Urban List possible. Click here for more information on our editorial policy.
Image credit: Michelle Jarni for The Urban List