The year is twenty-twentysomething. You’re heading northbound on a government scooter from the bottom of Smith Street: a one-time backwater turned nightlife wonderland. You’re thirsty, but you can’t decide what you feel like, so you risk it all on the word of a shady guide who offers to tour you through the neighbourhood, calling at pubs, wine bars, cocktail bars and more in a rambling waltz that promises it all; a gamble, yes, but one that might just pay some devilishly tasty dividends…
Start at The Grace Darling Hotel (114 Smith St, Collingwood, thegracedarlinghotel.com.au). Why? Because it’s a great pub with great live music and because the Collingwood Football Club was born here. True story. Food is nice-pub, service is cool-pub; the football will be playing on a small TV in the corner and local musicians playing upstairs. You’re likely tipping in a Boatrocker Stout with passion, and you’re probably wearing a creamy stout froth-moustache as a result; a pleasant smelling, time-honoured props gag, but one you should probably wipe off before arriving at the stone-hued Congress Wine (49 Peel St, congresswine.com.au), where you’ll be wrapping your laughing gear around a pig’s head sanga and a glass of Mac Forbes EBE2 pinot meunier. There are wine bars and there are wine bars, and Congress, friends, is the latter.
Don’t overthink that – get yourself back on Smith Street instead, get inside Smithward (48 Smith St, smithward.com.au) and get you some molten raclette: the year-round house specialty. The wine list at this snug 17-seater is all-Victorian, so it could be a Defialy vermentino, a Scion durif or a cocktail mixed with 100 per cent local booze. If you’re heading home you can take a bottle with you for $30 off the listed menu price, but on this occasion you have 10 more bars left to visit, beginning with Maha Bar (86 Smith St, mahabar.com.au). Shane Delia’s mezze-fest is delicious however you slice it, but you’d be remiss to ignore the local and biodynamic-rich wine list, nor the moody, arak-driven cocktails.
Yoohoo – we’re over here now, a few hundred metres north at Glou (310 Smith St, glou.com.au) – French for “glug” – where the focus is sustainability and where you’ll sustain yourself on interesting gear like the Keg Nat from Yugen Wines, a Heathcote Pecorino by Minim, or a piquette by Little Brunswick Wine C0. Glug glug glug, glass over the shoulder (actually, don’t – most of Glou’s wines are tapped, so you’ll need all the glassware you can carry in order to take something home. Also, sustainability), and out the door and off to The Moon (28A Stanley St, themooninmelbourne.com), where you’ll be pleased to learn there are 20 wines by the glass – many of which are Victorian. Lots of nice-looking wood, plenty of cheese and charcuterie, friendly, debonair – what else do you want?
I see, you want 44th-best-bar-in-the-world cocktails. Well then, right this way *opens door to Above Board* (Level 1/306 Smith Street, aboveboardbar.com). The spirits are all decanted and kept out of sight at Hayden Lambert’s intimate bar; a sleek, minimalist setup where a concise cocktail list holds its own among the world’s best from a humble laneway behind Smith Street – and you can take them home with you, too. A big communal table; a big world-class vibe.
It simply wouldn’t be a trip to Collingwood without a digression at Hope St Radio (35 Johnston St, hopestradio.community), a radio station-natural wine bar-pasta restaurant trifecta that has pocket aces in proprietors Jack Shaw and Pete Baxter, and another up the sleeve in chef Ellie Bouhadana. The focaccia breaks the internet periodically, but food here is otherwise humble, consistently delicious, and best taken between a spot of chinwaggery around the firepit. Lots of local, next-wave drinking (and people watching) to be done here – five aces.
Now, you have a choice: go to The Tote Hotel (67-71 Johnston St, thetotehotel.com) now, or go to The Tote Hotel later. Fine – later it is, but we’re definitely going, we’re definitely seeing some excellent and probably fairly extreme music, and we’re definitely drinking something – an ice-cold Melbourne Bitter, perhaps – that will largely become one with the carpet, what with all the moshing and the jiving. For now, a Goldy’s! roll – an in-house rendering of the Chiko Roll – at Goldy’s! Tavern (66A Gold St, goldystavern.com.au) will do nicely – especially, say, with a glass of Little Reddie nebbiolo refosco from a list that keeps largely local and commendably affordable. You challenge for the pool table and pocket the eight-ball right off the break, so it’s off to to the eclectic Paradise Alley (25 Easey St, paradisealley.com.au) with you: a warehouse bar with a Latin bent. Order a Bloody Mary served in a tomato tin and perhaps an empanada or two; you must be starving.
Breaking east down Johnston Street, your next port of call is Nighthawks (136 Johnston St, nighthawksbar.com.au) one of several excellent bars in an emerging late-night strip. An archetypal dive, there will generally be something good spinning while you work away at your local draught. The website says “be nice or leave”; you were just okay, and are now en route to Gum Bar (173 Johnston St, gumbar.com.au) where the perenially chipper man o’ many hats Chris Wright is pushing your all-Victorian Negroni around an oversized cube of ice while coaxing a Pie Thief Big Mac pie out of the warmer; a gentleman. Play your cards right and he might just cut you a demo at his Sunset Pig Recording Studio, which operates directly above.
Across the road, Thank You Bar (210 Johnston St, thankyou-bar.com) beckons you forth and furnishes you with an $8 Espresso Martini if it’s happy hour, or something equally vivifying if it’s not. This will be our dancing stop; if you need a break, the tiered seating in the smokers’ section is a great place to make new friends and watch unexpected things unfold, like the arrival of a pizza from the nearby Thin Slizzy (115 Johnston St, thinslizzy.com) delivered to the smoker’s section on skateboard.
Jump cut to The Tote Hotel, where you come to crowdsurfing a wave of contentment, toasting gleefully to the strength of Victorian drinking and the evolution of this bedrock Melbourne neighbourhood. Good old Collingwood, forever!
By Frank Sweet