No matter where in the world we are, there’s nothing quite like spending an evening sharing a drink with pals in a themed venue like a creepy house or a good Mexican cantina. These are three of Melbourne’s best offerings – and some of them are insanely cool. Words by Ryan Auberson-Walsh
The Croft Institute
This place is crazy – and if you’ve been into television series like American Horror Story: Asylum, then this place is right up your alley.
Nestled at the end of a windy, graffiti-sprayed alleyway, journeying here off a bustling street in Chinatown is rather eerie. There’s no clear indication if you’re heading into an enclave full of disgruntled homeless people or a seedy artist’s hangout – but alas, walk through enough puddles and take in the glorious odour of the local dumpsters before arriving at a true Melbourne institute.
Three stories of drunken excitement and terror to be had, the ground floor is great for a quiet drink, resembling a mad scientist’s lab while the toilets (departments of Male and Female hygiene) are decked out like the ward of an insane asylum. The top level ‘gymnasium’ turns out the tunes for a good dance session, and the bar top is covered in a neatly trimmed layer of grass.
A star player in the world of underground and concept bars, you can’t leave (We assure you, you won’t actually be restrained) until you’ve tried a cocktail, served up with a sipping syringe – a wonderfully playful approach to downing a drink concocted in the lab.
“Drink to Africa!”
Never before has such a phrase made ethical sense. But you and any compassionate pals can comfortably celebrate with this toast at Shebeen, a bar where 100 per cent of the profits are returned to the drink’s country of origin.
So bring along a few of your pals who love a drink – because it could be the one time in their lives where their potential alcoholism makes a difference to something other than their liver.
The way it works is super simple – order any beer, wine, cider or margarita and the cost is redirected to one of several charity organisations that operate in your drink’s motherland, benefiting locals in a number of ways.
If you feel you need to pace yourself after given the incentive to down more drinks than one human can handle, just spend some dosh on a slider of kimchi or the delicious banh mi (Vietnamese pork roll). It’ll really help round out the whole ‘drinking for charity’ experience.
Are you all about the eastern grunge or the West side’s prim and proper elite? If you couldn’t choose then you’ll just have to sneak across the border and taste something a little different.
At Berlin Bar, positioned in the centre of Chinatown, you need to climb a few flights of stairs and buzz yourself in to the top secret cocktail-lover safe haven (the Gestapo could be watching). You enter through the West, a room with décor fresh out of a five-star hotel cocktail lounge, and opt to stay and drink fabulously or head East, wandering next door into a dimly lit casual pad splashed with posters and art on the walls.
This is a place ideal to give your German accent a go as you roll your tongue over the extensive rotating drink menu. There you’ll still find cocktails covering everything from spicy to sweet, with favourites the fiery Blitzkrieg (cinnamon/vanilla infused cognac, whiskey and absinth) or the zesty Angela Merkel (vodka, triple sec, elderflower liqueur, blackberry compote, citrus and rhubarb, with a sugar rim ‘for the jewellery’).
And if you’re unsure what snacks you should eat in the company of Germany’s Iron Lady, everything on the menu is adequately Deutsch enough for her approval, from currywurst to mini schweinburgers (pork sliders).