The weather’s getting warmer and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival is in full swing which can only mean one thing – the footy season is just around the corner! This year’s AFL season kicks off on Thursday night with the now traditional blockbuster between Richmond and Carlton at the MCG. And while Melbourne’s major sporting venues the ‘G and Etihad Stadium may be winning praise for cutting the price of their food and drinks, we’d prefer to steer clear of the meat pies, hot chips and plastic cups of beer and combine two of our favourite things about Melbourne: the footy and our world-class culinary scene. Here are eight of the best venues within walking distance of the MCG and Etihad Stadium where you can enjoy a pre-match dinner, a quick drink before the game or some celebratory beers after your team’s next big win.
Richmond’s Corner Hotel has been a favourite with footy fans for decades, and with good reason. Just a couple of drop punts from the MCG, the Corner is equipped with everything to complete your pre-game experience: your choice of a couple of comfortable bars, a great menu packed with sharing plates, burgers and pizzas and, from the Rooftop Bar, terrific views of the sporting mecca punctuated by trains rumbling by at the adjacent Richmond Station. The Rooftop Bar, with your choice of indoor and outdoor seating, is open from noon on weekends and best of all is heated to shake off those mid-season winter blues.
East Melbourne’s GG Restaurant describes itself as a place to celebrate three of Melbourne’s favourite things: food, coffee and wine. You can make it four by adding in our love of Aussie Rules. GG offers striking views across Fitzroy Gardens and is within close proximity of the ‘G, making it an obvious option for a pre-match meal. The focus here is on mouth-watering European flavours, evident in the wood fire pizzas, slow-roasted meats cooked over coal and pastas. There’s also a series of sharing menus, if you can’t decide on just one dish. Complement your meal with a local or international wine, craft beer or European-style aperitif. It’s so good, it’s worth missing the first quarter for.
It took the excellent work of the Open Door Pub Company (whose portfolio also includes the College Lawn Hotel and Geebung Polo Club) to breathe new life into Melbourne’s oldest pub, The Duke of Wellington. When it reopened in 2013, the once-dormant venue with its prime location opposite Federation Square and 10 or 15 minutes’ walk from the MCG had transformed itself into a slick and stylish pub. Its central address makes The Duke a great choice for a pre or post-match drink. Inside the split-level venue, you’ll find plenty of big screen TVs (handy if you missed out on tickets to the big game) plus communal tables, a well-stocked bar and a menu of hearty and well-priced pub fare.
Home to one of Melbourne’s best beer gardens, the London Tavern is hugely popular with footy crowds and it’s easy to see why. The spacious, old-school pub ticks all the boxes—framed footy memorabilia on the walls? Yep. A no-nonsense menu of steaks, burgers and parmas? Sure thing. Plenty of beers on tap? You bet. But the pub’s prized asset is that beer garden—paved, shaded and the perfect spot to soak up the sun (or, being Melbourne, stay out of the rain) before heading to a game. Add in its Richmond location within stumbling distance of the ‘G, and it’s one of the best pubs in Melbourne, come footy season.
With its Swan Street location within a few blocks of the MCG and opposite Richmond Station, Holliava doesn’t disappoint. Enjoy a drink while people-watching the crowds heading to the game, or for something quieter, head inside the cosy brick-walled front bar or the charming beer garden complete with Banksy-style graphic art, oversized light fittings and splashes of greenery—it’s a true inner-city oasis. There’s no kitchen, but staff will let you bring in food from any of their neighbours. Since Swan Street is home to everything from take-away pizza and fish and chips to burgers, Mexican and Greek, it’s fair to say you won’t be starved for choice.
As far as handy locations for the footy go, nobody beats 90 Secondi. Sitting opposite Etihad Stadium’s Gate 3, you can finish your drink, pay your bill, scan your ticket at the turnstile and be in your stadium seat in less than five minutes. 90 Secondi specialises in thin-crust pizzas topped with fresh ingredients. The restaurant’s name comes from the amount of time each pizza spends in the oven, to give it that true Napolitano flavour. Not in the mood for pizza? There are also pasta dishes, starters and mains, complemented by imported beers and soft drinks. 90 Secondi holds regular Friday evening happy hours too, so keep an eye out before the bounce.
For years, the prime piece of city real estate now occupied by the Savoy Tavern lay dormant. Since reopening in time for last year’s footy season, the Savoy has become a popular spot for after work drinks or a pre or post-footy beer and bite to eat. Sitting opposite Southern Cross Station and within five minutes’ walk of Etihad Stadium, the Melbourne pub retains plenty of its original 1970s features (including red brick walls and wood trim), with all the modern comforts you expect. The bar menu features nothing over $20 (there are some pricier options available on a separate menu if you wish) and there’s a good range of beers and ciders on tap. Big screen TVs broadcast all the sporting action, including (obviously) footy as well as cricket and soccer.
You don’t necessarily associate Spain—the land of beaches, paella and soccer—with Aussie Rules. But if you kick-start your night at Etihad Stadium with a bite to eat at Bar Nacional, you might. Located on Collins Street just a couple of torpedos away from the stadium, Bar Nacional draws its inspiration from the vibrancy of Spanish food. Within the bustling eatery—where you can expect to drink house-made Sangria alongside local and Spanish wines—you will find a menu of tapas and raciones (larger dishes designed to share). Bar Nacional is closed on weekends, but book it in for your next footy Friday night.
Image Credit: Half Baked Harvest