The arrival of a clutch of new hotels in town brings with it some new-wave hotel bar excitement, writes Michael Harden.
Melbourne is having a new-hotel moment. In the past year, a gaggle of them have flung open their doors, and behind those doors you’ll find a bumper crop of luxury hotel bars. For a city with a world-famous nightlife scene, great hotel bars have been relatively thin on the ground in Melbourne. Or at least they were till now. Travel might be a complicated question in 2021, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be transported by a great time.
The Douglas Club (thedouglasclub.com.au) at the Hilton Melbourne Little Queen gets a thousand bonus points straight off for the beauty of the space. The multi-story hotel’s Italian restaurant, Luci, and the bar are both housed in the gorgeous Equity Chambers, a 1931 Romanesque and Gothic stone, marble and timber fantasy that sits on Bourke Street, at the foot of the hotel’s new tower. Veteran Melbourne architects Bates Smart are responsible for a sympathetic fit-out that honours the the original architecture while also making The Douglas Club a modern classic. It’s cosy and sexy by way of flattering lighting, lounge seating and luxury finishes. The wine and beer lists are workable, but the gold is in the cocktails. They’re well-constructed and lean classic in the Manhattan, Sazerac and Red Snapper vein. There are decent bar snacks too, including oysters, cheese, charcuterie and a rather good crab tartlet with bonito mayonnaise.
On the third floor of Next Hotel Melbourne, reached via the lift or, for a bit more drama, the marble staircase, La Madonna (nexthotelmelbourne.com) is both restaurant and bar. The two parts share a high-ceilinged, luxuriously appointed space, but they’re separated definitively enough for the bar to have a serious go at being a standalone attraction on the strength of its cocktails. There’s an extensive barrel-aging program on display that offers both aged cocktails and also a whole range of distilled liqueurs and fortified wines put to good use in concoctions like a charming version of a Sazerac made richer and sweeter with the use of a coconut-washed rye. There are good no-alcohol options (the Amalfi Mist combines bergamot, lemon, Champagne vinegar and eucalyptus) and the snacks are solid too; a chicken wing parmigiana, perhaps, or salt-and-vinegar zucchini fritters.
The sweet little street-level all-day dispensary SingSong at the Quincy (quincymelbourne.com) is the smallest of three food and drink options at the hotel but what this fresh take on the hotel bar lacks in size it makes up for in wit and gumption. There’s the snack menu of South-East Asian-influenced food that includes tapioca coconut pudding with dragonfruit for breakfast and prawn sandos with spicy slaw for the rest of the day and a drinks menu that covers many bases from bubble and fruit teas to “Asian Coffees” (Vietnamese, Laotian and Indonesian), plus a cute list of cocktails and another of spritzes named for Melbourne suburbs like the Williamstown, which includes blue curaçao and yuzu sake in the mix.
For those with good eyesight or with a pair of night vision goggles handy, the subterranean gloom of Curious at the W Hotel (marriott.com/hotels/travel/melwh-w-melbourne) is just the ticket. The name’s a hint that there’s an Alice in Wonderland theme happening with the decor (enter through a glass door, past some clocks and descend into a dark space that is occasionally punctuated by rabbits) that’s more psychedelic than Disney. Cocktails are Melbourne-themed, divided into ‘coffee’, ‘fashion’ and ‘art’ categories. There’s a lot going on with the drinks. One from the ‘art’ list, called Warhol’s Muse, is a shaken gin, lemon, coconut and almond milk number with a portrait of Andy Warhol applied to the foam. Snacks include a continent-leaping array from tuna pizzette to tempura vegetables to beef tacos.
Across the river, Lona Misa, the all-day diner at Ovolo South Yarra (ovolohotels.com/ovolo/south-yarra/lona-misa) is as good a place to catch a few drinks as it is to chomp through the Latin-leaning plant-based menu from chefs Shannon Martinez and Ian Curley. The drinks list is as exuberant as the theatrical décor, featuring tinnies from locals like Moon Dog, kombucha on tap (including a Piña Colada-flavoured number), a variety of gin and tonics, classic and zero-booze cocktails and a wine list that grabs from Australia, South America and Europe. It’s a good-looking space that’s set up for a good time.
By Michael Harden