Fine diving. It’s a thing. In fact – we’re calling it now – it’s going to be the next big restaurant trend. So what exactly is it? Well, it’s what happens when fine dining meets a dive bar, and has an ironic lovechild.
Think faux-luxe; the foodie equivalent of hanging fluffy dice from your Bugatti Veyron - or, if you’re Kanye, getting a lurid scene of naked ladies painted on a Birkin bag for Kim. Or maybe those are bad examples. Maybe it’s easier to simply think of it as a grungier experience of upper-crust restaurants. ‘Fine diving’ harmonises the polar elements of fine dining and dive bars to create a uniquely ghetto glam affair.
Last month we gave you a heads-up about Two Wrongs, the slick new South Yarra bar that brought the concept of ‘fine diving’ to our attention in the first place. Click here for a refresher. Co-owners Isaac Constantine and Zachary Riggs coined the term after deciding that not enough restaurants in Melbourne were taking the piss out of themselves. At Two Wrongs, they’re juxtaposing cheesy novelty with classy touches so cleverly that it’s hard to tell whether the joke’s on us or them.
If you haven’t been down to check it out yet, make a point of it. The menu’s a zeitgeisty masterpiece with a dedicated ‘eat with your hands’ section that includes pork donuts and crab cones. The mac ‘n’ cheese comes crowned with truffled popcorn, and the desserts range from a Kinder Surprise-inspired egg filled with white chocolate mousse and passionfruit jelly frogs, to an Italian-style rejig of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
You can play Nintendo while you wait for a table - yet classy, elegant touches are still there. Hello, crystal glassware and Versace cutlery. The careful plating wouldn’t look out of place at Vue de Monde and the cocktails are sticky with pulps, crumbles and purees. If you’re starting to think, ‘hey, that sounds pretentious,’ they’re one self-referential wink ahead of you with a cocktail called Lara Bingle that involves ‘Smurf tears’ and a couple of hundred strategically-placed butter knives stabbed into a wall that spell out ‘fork this place’.
It’s fresh. It’s fun. It’s fine diving. But if the south-side of the river just ain’t your scene, or you fear Two Wrongs will be too busy because people are quite rightly losing their shit over it, here are some other fine diving style bars that take a tongue-in-cheek approach to food, drink and good times.
Tucked down Heffernan Lane in the city, Union Electric is a quirky little cocktail bar next to New Kum Den. A portrait of Bill Murray watches over drinkers and Espresso Martinis come with a chocolate Pocky stick. Not much beer or wine gets drunk here – it’s all about the Penicillin Cocktail (ginger, lemon, honey, whisky, port) and the lurid green Kum Den Botanica (gin, elderflower, apple, lime, cucumber, herbs). Drinks are served in glittering vintage glassware, and you can get a quick fix of dumplings or spring rolls from next door delivered straight to your table.
The ‘tacky disco’ décor at Hello Jose pays tribute to the taco huts and beach bars of Tulum, a seaside resort town in Mexico. The food is about a million times better than what you’ll find in your average takeaway taqueria, and enhanced by the 12 types of tequila on offer. The menu ticks off different five taco variations covering all the major animals and pulses, and you can also chomp down on tostaditas, house-made horchata, and chilli-chocolate churros. Disco balls dangle overhead and the background music is 90s era.
Nautically themed and suitably naughty, The Beaufort is a grungy rock ‘n’ roll bar where you can order a Cherry ‘n’ Jerry (cherry Coke, Sailor Jerry rum) as well as a deep-fried pickle. That’s the stuff dreams are made of, folks. The rotating craft beers are complemented by a concise cocktail list, and occasionally the house-favourite Whisky Mac (green ginger wine and whisky) is offered on tap. Food is heart-attack American diner style, with Monterey Jack Cheese Poppers, vegan nuggets, fat cheeseburgers, and cornbread donuts. Out the back there’s Ike’s Rack Shack with triple-stack boards of pork, lamb, beef, and even vegan ribs.
Hats & Tatts
Hatts & Tatts is right on trend with its Zoolander references – the neon sign behind the bar invites drinkers to ‘derelicte my balls’. It’s got a frat house vibe and a formidable booze collection with around 150 bourbons and ryes. There’s some fancy cocktail equipment – including a nitro kit and Co2 – and the bar is a testing ground for West Winds Gin. In an unusual touch, the craft beers are nearly all tinned. The food is predictably American, but unpredictably high-class – the Faux Boy po’ boy uses oyster mushrooms instead of oysters, and the hot sauce is made on the premises.
Grand Trailer Park Taverna
Home to the humble burger and the not-so-humble spiked milkshake, Grand Trailer Park Taverna is all about beef, brioche, and bourbon. The space is decked out with open-sided caravans and motorhomes that you can sit in as you sip classic cocktails and craft beers. The menu is rife with pop culture references – sink your teeth into a Frances Underwood burger that’s gluey with purposefully plasticky cheese then wash it down with a salted caramel, bourbon and maple bacon milkshake.
Image credit: Nick West for The Urban List
Looking for more Melbourne dive bars? Check out our directory!