Melbourne’s bar scene has a long and colourful history, and Ben Oliver has devoted his life to unearthing all the good bits.
As the founder of Drinking History Tours, Ben leads small groups into Melbourne’s famous back alleys to reveal some of our best bars, with a bit of history along the way. There’s something for tourists and locals.
With almost 15,000 licensed venues in our fair city, Ben struggled to choose his favourite hidden bars, but these are five of his go-to venues.
Steak @ Harley House
- 71 Collins St, Melbourne (enter via Strachan Lane off Exhibition St), 03 9663 8333
- Tucked down Strachan Lane, this Peruvian-inspired bar and restaurant opened back in 2015 in the heritage-listed Harley House building, taking over from Mexican-Chinese fusion restaurant La Chinesca. This bar is famous for its signature Pisco Sour (pictured), but the steak is the unsung hero. Yes, order a Pisco (they are the best in Australia), but don’t pass on the perfectly cooked Wagyu.
Date night @ Bar Americano
- 20 Presgrave Pl, Melbourne
- Behind the Capitol Arcade, near the end of Presgrave Place, you’ll find one of Melbourne’s true bar gems. Bar Americano encapsulates Melbourne’s laneways bar scene; small, hard to find, a little bit gritty and bursting with personality. No longer Melbourne’s smallest bar – that honour now goes to Le Bar European in Docklands – Bar Americano was Melbourne’s first standing room only bar when it opened in 2011.
Wee dram @ Whisky and Alement
- 270 Russell St, Melbourne, (03) 9654 1284
- Melbourne’s whiskey lovers are a spoiled subset of drinker. There’s Eau de Vie for cocktails. For boilermakers, it’s over to Boilermaker House. But for a dram of the good stuff – always neat – Whisky and Alement is the place. Operating since 2010, Whiskey and Alement offers more than 1100 varieties of firewater, plus bar staff with expert knowledge to guide your selection.
Ale at Whitehart
- 22 Whitehart Ln, Melbourne, (03) 9602 2260
- Whitehart opens like an industrial-themed flower for the punter taking a turn down Whitehart Lane. Industrial shipping containers and steel beams are softened by greenery to create a true urban oasis. With a rotating list of food vendors – Primo Street Pizza will be serving slices until the end of March – Whitehart is the perfect post-work destination.
Singalong at Murmur
- 17 Warburton Ln, Melbourne, (03) 9640 0395
- For anyone who’s attended at least one wedding, you’ll know how naturally singing follows drinking. So it made sense when Murmur reopened in 2018 to make one very important addition – a piano. The piano bar as a trend hasn’t taken off in Australia like it has in the US, but Murmur may be where that begins to change. Grab a beer, make a request and sing like no one is listening.
12 Bligh Pl, Melbourne, (03) 9620 3646
Laneway bars west of Elizabeth Street are harder to find, which makes Robot Bar such an unexpected gem. This bar takes its cues from Tokyo, and its name from the robot mobiles suspended from the ceiling. Your Japanese culture cup overfloweth with a dizzying array of beers, snacks and of course, sake. And if you’re left wanting, Robot also hosts anime flicks every Tuesday night.