The winter chill is well and truly here, and music-loving Melburnians are flocking to cosy bars and pubs across the city to get their groove on, without losing sensation in their toes. We've cherry picked a handful of more intimate gig venues for you to escape the cold, check out some new and emerging talent, and support local live music in the process. Regardless of taste, we think you'll find a little something to whet your musical appetite this winter. Welcome to our round up of Melbourne's best live music venues, this side of spring.
Located on bustling Brunswick Street in the heart of Fitzroy, the iconic Evelyn Hotel is notable for its shabby-chic exterior and revellers spilling out onto the street's beer garden. Hosting bands from a broad range of genres seven nights a week, there's something for everyone: from acoustic folk, to country, to dance, or death metal.
Bands will sometimes play on the hotel's rooftop, so if you hear live music while traipsing around Brunswick Street, follow your ears - you might just end up on The Evelyn's roof with a beverage in hand! With a friendly, laid back atmosphere and cheap drinks, it's no surprise this venue has become a Melbourne music institution.
Where: 351 Brunswick Street in Fitzroy
Contact: 03 9419 5500
Another Brunswick Street gem, set on the corner of Gertrude Street (in a previous life, the Rob Roy Hotel). The band room here hosts many local, national and international acts that you can catch almost any night of the week. With its exposed wooden beams and paneling, it feels like you could be checking out a band in a mate's attic.
Before the show, seat yourself on a piece of recycled timber furniture in the main bar, enjoy a drink from the comprehensive bevvie list, and choose from a range of quality pub grub in the dining room. They also host the popular Soul-A-Go-Go once a month, spinning funk and soul vinyls to boogie the night away.
Where: 51 Brunswick Street in Fitzroy
Contact: 03 9415 6558
This versatile gig and performing arts space is located on the second floor of the historic Curtin House in the CBD, and hosts eclectic local and international music acts, from pop through to rock, most nights of the week. Like the main bar next door, the band room is stylish with a cabaret feel. It's an intimate space with its own well-stocked bar tucked in the back corner, that transforms from gig space to nightclub later in the evening, so you can happily continue to dance the night away!
The Toff also boasts a fun selection of neighbours to hang out in pre and post show: there's sister venue, Cookie, for outstanding Thai and an epic beer list, and the Rooftop Bar a few flights up for mulled wine and a stupendous city view.
Where: Level 2, Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street in Melbourne
Contact: 03 9639 8770
What looks like a shop front and not necessarily a live music space? Bar 303. Neighbouring the Northcote Social Club, 303 is no-fuss with its basic drinks menu, eclectic decor and artwork, and two gig spaces at the front and back. Smaller acoustic and jazz acts, and sometimes DJs, play at the front bar set against the street-side window and High Street backdrop. The back room is where 'the real groove gets laid down' and the gradual slope to the stage allows you to see above punters' heads as you enjoy the show from one of the many comfy couches. It's a relaxed space where you could easily sit on the carpeted floor, or dance along up close and personal.
Where: 303 (hence the bar's name) High Street in Northcote
Contact: 03 9482 4577
Boasting 31 years of live music, The Tote has hosted local and Australian punk, post-punk, heavy metal and hardcore bands since the 1980s. The illustrious history of this Collingwood venue is displayed proudly on the walls, and the band room epitomises the dark, grungy vibe of the rock 'n' roll acts it showcases. Forced to close due to liquor licensing laws in January 2010, The Tote 'totes' resurrected itself with a vengeance, and once again keeps punters happy with emerging and renowned acts Thursday through to Sunday. Enjoy a drink at the quirky front bar, venture upstairs to the jungle-esque Cobra Bar, or retreat to the courtyard after a sweaty gig.
Where: 71 Johnston Street in Collingwood
Contact: 03 9419 5320
Open since ye olden days of 1878, and one of the few gig venues south of the river, St Kilda's cultural icon, The 'Espy', looks over Port Phillip Bay and features a space for almost every calibre of band. The Espy's ornate Gershwin Room has seen well-known national and international touring acts perform, and is also home to the SBS's Rockwiz. Enjoy smaller emerging bands (mostly free of charge) in the main bar, and venture into the basement for more intimate shows. On average 'the pub hosts more than 50 bands and DJs across three stages seven days a week'. Music to our ears!
Where: 11 The Esplanade in St Kilda
Contact: 03 9534 0211
Frustrated with a lack of southside music venues, the CMC's manager originally hosted gigs in his lounge room. When popularity ensued, he joined forces with the Oakleigh Bowls Club before The Caravan Music Club found its permanent home in the RSL down the road. Replete with candles, the old art deco hall spans out into the beer garden, adding to the country-like charm of The Caravan. The venue attracts iconic Australian rock, roots and blues acts 3-5 days a week, with most gigs held Thursday to Sunday nights.
Where: Oakleigh-Carnegie RSL, 95-97 Drummond Street in Oakleigh
Contact: 03 9568 1432
All live music is free at this Brunswick pub, which has kept its old world charm, err, charmingly. You're best to get there early as The Retreat can draw a line, especially at the weekends. The front bar is cosy, and the beer garden out back must be one of the biggest and best in Melbourne. Nestled between the two is the band room, reminiscent of an old dance hall. Tuck into some quality pub food while you watch some free live music. Did we mention it's free?
Where: 280 Sydney Road in Brunswick
Contact: 03 9380 4090
We're spoiled for choice here in Melbourne. What intimate music venues would you add to the list?
TUL Note: Kendall Munns is a music nut and, when she's not rocking communications by day, you'll find her at a festival somewhere in the country or a gig someplace in the city. Kendall loves yoga, wishes she was a better dancer, and thrives off Melbourne's creative and food culture (and all round amazingness).
Image Credit: New World Musical Radio