Live Music Venues Series - Part 1: The Esplanade Hotel
To say this pub is a live music icon in Melbourne is not really doing it justice. Built in the 1870s, 'The Espy' is perfectly positioned just back from the waterfront on St Kilda's 'The Esplanade', and has been hosting the very best in live Australian and international music for decades. In fact it claims to be the longest continuously running live music venue in the country. One would be a brave individual to dispute this claim too.
Firstly, it is a very large complex, especially relative to your average live music pub. So much so that it has three entirely separate band rooms, the smallest of which is the subterranean bottom bar, or Basement. Don't be fooled by the dark staircase off to the right of the main entrance that you have to descend to get there, it's a great little room with a fully stocked bar where much musical greatness can still be experienced.
Enter said main entrance, and you're in the front bar. It's quite a large area, with the fantastic stage as the centrepiece, where all manner of gigs from as broad a range of artists as can be imagined happen. From hip hop to a DJ to a heavy rock or metal band, this band room has the lot. The bar is broad and well stocked and close to the stage, so you won't miss a second of the show when you go to wet your whistle. And one the best parts about it is that, aside from the occasional mini-festival or the like, the main bar is completely free to enter. So you can catch a world class show there for nix. Needless to say, the room is regularly packed to the rafters and heaving, especially on a Saturday night in Summer.
Take the hallway off to the left and you're in the world famous Gershwin Room. It's a massive room, with a capacity of 6-700, and undoubtedly one of the best live music areas in Australia. Again, it sees almost any style of music you can imagine, within reason, and the stage, PA system and lighting are absolutely top notch. Hence the room often hosts local band's album launches or international acts. It's also where television's Rockwiz has been taped has been filmed for many years.
Also playing a major role in the hotel's appeal is the magnificent Espy Kitchen, which supplies an extremely broad range of meals for the hungry rock punter to avail themselves of, any time of day. From a hearty breakfast to a burger for lunch or a late night pizza, the kitchen has something for everyone, and at a very reasonable price.
There's also a very comprehensive bottle shop, plenty of outdoor seating area for al fresco eating and drinking on a balmy Melbourne summer's evening and a room full of pool tables. The only thing missing is TV screen and pokies. And we are all eternally grateful for that.
The Espy is National Trust registered and an absolute national treasure. And to think we almost lost it forever a few years back, to greedy developers who wanted to use the site for an apartment and shopping complex. Only a massive uproar from the locals and Melbourne's music community saved it from such a tragic fate.
Watching a band at the Espy is as much of a must-do Melbourne experience as going to the footy at the MCG or seeing the Melbourne Cup at Flemington.