5. SweatShop - Lonsdale St, CBD: This is a tough call between this bar, Black Pearl (Brunswick St, Fitzroy), Troika Bar (Little Lonsdale St, CBD), and Town Hall (Errol St, North Melbourne). All of them play great music, but I will go with Sweatshop because even if you don’t get a table you can still hang about, which doesn’t work so well in the other spots. The design of Sweatshop is simple enough: it’s essentially a bunker with a whole bunch of ‘1sts’ scrawled along the walls (all of them appear to be in-jokes, don’t try to understand them). But it has a decent atmosphere at any time of night (possibly because it always feels like it is 11pm there), making it a good stand-by for any night out in the CBD.
4. Berlin Bar – Corrs Lane, CBD: I’ve only dropped by Berlin Bar twice, but it’s certainly a place that makes an impression. First you have to walk up a flight of nondescript stairs to an equally nondescript door, and ring the bell for access. Once inside you walk past a large photo of Hitler (or Charlie Chaplin I suspect) standing over a globe, and then up to the bar itself, which has been divided into a very plush ‘West Berlin’ section, and a plush but faux-rundown ‘East Berlin’ section. The drinks menu itself is also fairly satisfying, with plenty of German beers, and a good range of cocktails. It’s not necessarily a place you would go to on a regular basis, given the degree of difficulty in obtaining access, but it’s worth making the trip at least once.
3. The Corner Hotel – Swan St, Richmond: In terms of design, the Corner Hotel is no better than any of the other pubs in the Swan St area; its rooftop beer garden is quite good, although not even necessarily among the best beer gardens in Richmond. But of course, that’s not what the Corner is most famous for: it’s the great line-up of bands that play at the venue each year. It’s pretty handy to have a beer upstairs and then walk down to the bandroom, and on some nights, to go back and forth between the two: music, beer, music, beer, and so on… It would rate higher, but getting up to the rooftop beer garden can sometimes be frustrating, and there’s some chance one of your party will be kicked out before the night is through.
2. Der Raum – Church St, Richmond: Der Raum is apparently considered one of the best bars in the world, and I would say with good reason. Any drink there is guaranteed to be some sort of experience: mine so far have been a Jamaican Black Strap served in a medicine bottle and wrapped in a little brown paper bag, and a coffee-flavoured cocktail that looked like a miniature stout. And they all taste great, hence justifying the relatively hefty price tag. Alas, Der Raum is soon to become a ‘members’ bar’, which may make it harder to gain access, but if I’m passing by and feeling wealthy I’ll still give it a shot.
1. Madame Brussels – Bourke St, CBD: Madame Brussels has pretty much everything you would want in a Melbourne bar: an outside rooftop area, kitsch décor, a back room parlour, good-looking wait staff, jugs of cocktails, and imported beers. And it used to be a brothel. Just about the perfect place to drink - except when it rains, that is …