Bars & Pubs

The Best Spots for Live Music in Melbourne

By Kathryn Kernohan - 11 Jul 2014

Corner Hotel
Richmond, VIC 1 Image
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The Workers Club
Fitzroy, VIC 1 Image
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The Grace Darling Hotel
Collingwood, VIC 1 Image
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Northcote Social Club
Northcote, VIC 1 Image
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Howler
Brunswick, VIC 1 Image
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The Esplanade Hotel
St Kilda, VIC 1 Image
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The Toff in Town
Melbourne, VIC 1 Image
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Melbourne prides itself on being the live music capital of Australia and despite the high-profile recent closure of Bourke Street's Palace Theatre, we're still home to dozens of superb venues where punters can catch anything from local indie bands to international hip-hop stars seven nights a week. From stadiums to basement bars, here's our guide to the best venues for live music in Melbourne.

NORTHSIDE

Live music in Melbourne pretty much begins and ends with the Corner Hotel. The iconic mid-size pub, adjacent to Richmond station, has hosted everyone from blink-182 and U2 to the cream of Australian acts such as Paul Kelly and You Am I. It's where The Living End chose to play a whopping 11 sold out shows on their retrospective tour in 2012, and where Lorde played a couple of intimate shows to celebrate the release of Pure Heroine late last year. Hell, it's the venue where Jack White wrote *that* riff to Seven Nation Army during a soundcheck in 2001. The Corner hosts gigs several nights a week, serves great pub grub and runs weekly rooftop trivia.

Head further north to Fitzroy and Collingwood where there's a handful of live music venues within walking distance from each other. On the corner of Brunswick and Gertrude Streets stands The Worker's Club, with its cosy band room highlighted by exposed timber beams and a forest backdrop. Elsewhere, there's the Evelyn Hotel, The Old Bar and The Tote Hotel, whose short-lived closure was famously the focus of the inaugural SLAM rally, which drew more than 10,000 people to the city streets in 2010. 

The Grace Darling Hotel has two separate band rooms and regularly hosts local gigs and launches and if you're looking for late night fun, it's hard to go past Yah Yah's. The Smith Street venue features live bands and DJs from Thursday-Sunday and is open until 5am on weekends.

Northcote Social Club has a great cosy bandroom, a wrap-around front bar and a fantastic deck, making it a great place for pre and post-gig hangouts. Brunswick is home to a few live music mainstays like The Retreat Hotel and The Cornish Arms, both of which are comfortable pubs for a meal or a gig most nights of the week. 

In 2012, The Spotted Mallard opened its doors and established itself as a popular hub for music, trivia and craft beer. Even newer is Howler – a multi-purpose space in a former wool shed that has already hosted book launches, World Cup parties and flea markets, as well as a string of gigs by acclaimed US artist, St Vincent.

Coburg's Post Office Hotel is co-owned by a handful of rockers including Tex Perkins and a couple of former members of Dallas Crane and, while the focus is as much on quality food and comfort (the pub is home to one of Melbourne's best decks and beer gardens), the front bar hosts live local music acts several nights a week. A couple of the Post Office's owners, alongside the Retreat's Clinton Fisher, have recently re-opened Collingwood's Gasometer Hotel, complete with a vegan-friendly menu and two separate band rooms.


Prince Bandroom. Image credit: Prince Bandroom Facebook.

SOUTHSIDE

The centerpiece of the live music scene in Melbourne's south is St Kilda's Esplanade Hotel, built in 1878 and the longest continuously running live music venue anywhere in Australia. The Espy has three band rooms, from its basement bar revamped in 2005 to the 650-capacity Gershwin Room, which has hosted thousands of local and international acts. There's also a kitchen and bottle shop on site. The Espy's New Years Eve parties which take over the entire venue have become the stuff of legend – the likes of You Am I, Something for Kate and Spiderbait have played in recent years.

Around the corner on Fitzroy Street, the Prince Bandroom has featured the likes of Coldplay, Pink and Ben Harper over its 60 year-plus history as a live music venue. Parts of the room are tiered to ensure good lines of vision from anywhere, and electric line-ups mean you're likely to find indie one night and electro or roots the next. The Prince is a venue of choice for international touring acts and will host several Splendour in the Grass sideshows over the next few weeks.

Built as an Art Deco cinema in the 1920s, the Palais Theatre is great for those grown-up nights when the thought of standing for hours doesn't appeal. Plenty of rock acts grace the stage, but the seated theatre really shines when it is home to more mellow shows like recent solo gigs by Eddie Vedder.

Strictly speaking, it is not just a music venue, but St Kilda's Pure Pop Records is one of the south's best supporters of live music. Gigs are held several days a week and over summer the store has hosted a Classic Albums series where acts like Davey Lane and Julia Stone play their favourite records from start to finish.

Away from the beachside suburb, Elsternwick's Flying Saucer Club has established itself as a hub for largely adult contemporary acts as well as comedy and cabaret. Set inside the Caulfield RSL, it's run by the same folk behind Oakleigh's Caravan Club.


Forum Theatre. Image credit: Forum Melbourne Facebook

THE CITY

From a venue with the incredible claim to fame of hosting The Beatles (Festival Hall) to Rod Laver Arena for those stadium-sized stars, there's no shortage of live music venues in Melbourne's city.

The beautiful Forum Theatre, opened in 1962, is one of the best places in town to catch a gig. The blue ceiling, complete with twinkling stars, was designed to imitate the Mediterranean sky and busts of classic Greek and Roman statues line either side of the stage. From a punter's perspective, the choice between standing room and seating at the rear of the room is a treat.

Former nightclub Billboard was rebranded 170 Russell earlier this year. Bookings are now done by the crew behind the Corner Hotel and Northcote Social Club, so you can be assured of some A-grade live music lineups. 

Designed by pre-eminent architect Marcus Balrow, the Hi-Fi Bar (formerly the Century Theatre) has a sunken dance floor and a mezzanine bar plus a great history of hosting the likes of Foo Fighters, Muse and a then-little known New York outfit called The Strokes supporting You Am I back in 2001.

As for smaller venues, Ding Dong Lounge is the sister bar of New York's venue of the same name. The Studio 54-inspired band room features local and international acts mainly of the metal, garage and punk variety.

Legendary Little Collins Street bar Pony is now reborn as Boney by the team behind Cookie and Revolver Upstairs. The Karen Batson-designed menu is served until midnight, handy when catching a band or DJ upstairs.

And then there's The Toff in Town, on level two of Curtin House. The likes of Beach House and Martha Wainwright have played to intimate crowds in the 300-capacity band room, while DJs and regular comedy nights can also be found.

THE REST

Fan of punk, metal or rock? Footscray's The Reverence Hotel has you covered with two bandrooms (the larger of the pair regularly hosting international acts), and a Mexican-inspired menu with lots of vegan options.

What started as Oakleigh resident Peter Foley hosting gigs at his house has grown into the Caravan Music Club at Oakleigh RSL. The club's Carnival of Suburbia, a 10-day event showcasing dozens of Melbourne acts, will return next year.

Main image credit: The Band Junction

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