A freelance writer from Melbourne, I blog at www.littlegirlwithabigpen.wordpress.com
Published July 19th 2011
The algorithm for a successful bar or cafe in Melbourne seems to involve at least one of the following: 1) Is it hard to find? And 2) Is it possible to drink your coffee on the footpath, showing all who pass by that you're so hip you can pay to drink coffee on a footpath?
I've had about enough of these pretensions, and was relieved when I realised that Hell's Kitchen does neither of these things, but is still a very cool place to spend an afternoon, if not an evening. Located in Centre Place – the lane opposite Degraves Street - Hell's Kitchen is in a prime cafe strip, so it has some pretty tough competition.
This bar is relatively easy to find - all you need to do is look up. Among the hustle and bustle of Centre place is tucked a little stairwell under a lit-up sign. Up these stairs, and you find a bar/cafe with plenty of nooks and crannies, and during the day you'll usually find a table removed enough from other patrons that you can read or write have a normally-volumed conversation with a friend.. From here you can look down over the footpath-dwellers and drink your coffee in peace.
The menu is modest, but impressive. Hell's Kitchen serves home-style food like pides, soups, and pizzas, but they're so much better you could make at home by yourself. My favourite offering from the menu – a 'half-and-half' – half a pide (the simple cheese one is great) and a little bowl of soup. As with everything here, it's served with a handful of crisps and a pickle. Quaint.
The tap beers aren't spectacular – just the usual offerings like Coopers and Carlton; but the bar is well stocked with liqueurs and spirits for cocktails, and they make a mean coffee. Music seems to be provided by the bar staff's ipods, and luckily they all have good taste in music.
At night-time, Hell's Kitchen packs out with office-workers and uni students. The bar staff are cool and calm, and deal with crowds well. Good tunes and quick service make this crowded bar a little less stressful than many laneway bars in Melbourne. Due to its upstairs location, punters need to duck outside for a smoke, which can get a little chilly at this time of year.
A lot more comfortable in the daytime than at night, Hell's Kitchen is a nice change from the pretences of many hard-to-find bars in Melbourne laneways.