Everyone loves a secret, and what could be more underground than a Melbourne bar that’s actually in a basement? While it may sound like a novelty, you’ll be surprised to learn that Melbourne is full of bars below street level, and not only that, they’re damn good. Whether you’re into arcade games, Tiki drinks or just like to be in the know, here are Melbourne’s most underground bars. Literally.
Now, Melbourne has got a few of these arcade bars going around at the moment, and if this is your jam, be sure to also check out Forgotten Worlds and Pixel Alley. However, we’ve made Bartronica our pick because, as per usual, the devil is in the details. We’re digging the insane ‘80s vibes, the cocktail list which features drinks such as the DeLorean and Shredder for the super nerds, and the Tetris-shaped ice. As for games, get ready to hit up some Donkey Kong on Super Nintendo, have a crack at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pinball machine, or some good old fashioned Street Fighter Two.
East End Den
This basement bar in the CBD is a perfect antidote for those looking to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city streets while remaining in the centre of the action.
East End Den has a relaxed atmosphere with modern cuisine that can pull out a nifty cocktail or two if the mood strikes. We particularly like to drop in for their delicious wagyu sliders and oyster shooters, and wash them down with a Tangerine Sky—their own take on the Negroni—with Aperol, Campari, Amaro Montenegro and Dolin Rouge. Speaking of fancy pants drinks they do two for one cocktails on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, so hop to it!
Tiki bars are great anytime, but are especially excellent in winter because they can transport you to warmer climates with just one sip of a rum cocktail. They can also be notoriously tacky, but we are happy to report that is not the case with Aloha Sailor, The Noble Experiment’s Kristin and Daniel Lemura’s latest venture. Think premium spirits, homemade ingredients and a snacking menu packed full of Polynesian flavours. For a new take on a classic, try the Maybe a Mojito, with Diplomatico Blanco, pear liqueur, elderflower liqueur, lemongrass syrup, nitro muddled mint and lime juice, served straight up and carbonated. Heaven.
Fall From Grace
State of Grace may be what you notice first when hanging out in the swanky end of Collins Street, but their super secret cellar bar Fall From Grace is what you’ll stay for. The entrance to the hidden bar is behind a bookshelf—find the right book and away you go down the rabbit hole. Providing a delectable grazing menu and a killer wine list, you’ll be whiling away the hours here in no time. We are particular fans of the Falling From Grace section of their cocktail list, where drinks are inspired by everyone and everything from Miley Cyrus to Pirate Bay.
If Seamstress cocktail bar is the classy establishment one goes to for an elegant evening, then Sweatshop is where one heads when looking for a little more fun and mischief. With craft beers and whisky served via straight up bar service, the good times continue with DJs playing well into the night. It’s without the frills you may expect to find upstairs, but they’re more than capable of providing you with all of the elements needed for a seriously fun night out.
This inner-city basement bar has gone through quite a few reincarnations. Formerly known as La Chinesca, and before that Strange Wolf, Harley House is now serving Peruvian dishes, Picantería style. This kind of dining is perfect for sharing, and in this case you should definitely give their Alitas de Pollo a go, otherwise known as deep fried chicken wings in ají panca masterstock with ranchero tomato sauce. While they do have a list of house cocktails, and you’re certainly welcome to request something that’s not on their menu, the cervesas are where it’s at, with a selection of both local and international beers.
Trying to find the entrance to Yu-u is an adventure in itself, as there are no signs to guide you and the door is unsuspecting, covered in graffiti, because Melbourne. Once you’re in though it’s yakitori heaven, where you can demolish skewers and sake until you’re full to the brim. The only thing from preventing you from this dream becoming a reality is the small space, as it only holds around thirty patrons at a time. Good news is you can book a small private dining room, or simply arrive early to make the most of little Tokyo.
1806 is undoubtedly one of Melbourne’s most reputable spots for classic cocktails, so it makes total sense that things get a little bit obscure—in the best way—in their underground bar, The Understudy. It has long been a dream of ours to indulge in a cocktail degustation, and thankfully the folk at The Understudy are happy to oblige, as well as serving their more regular cocktails to perfection. To keep the party going well into the night, we suggest the Pharmaceutical Stimulant, comprised of 42 Below Honey vodka, Kahlua, espresso and sugar.
Image credit: Simon Shiff for The Urban List