I never knew how unique, original and genuinely open Melbourne's nightlife scene was until I sampled some other major cities in Australia. Nowhere else have I found the variety, the independent local music, the originality or the range of sub-cultures that we have in Melbourne. I have no interest at all in the club scene, Top 40 music certainly has a place but it is not in my CD collection. I wear a lot of black. I have a mohawk and I hate being surrounded by people who are all too drunk or drugged to hold themselves upright. A quiet wine, craft beer, good conversation, a comfortable (non-judgmental) environment, local music and art on the walls; that is what I crave. It seems so simple, yet it seems so hard to find.
I'm lucky enough to have spent the past 12 months travelling Australia and Chile, however the nightlife is one of the key factors that is slowly drawing me back to Melbourne. I simply do not feel comfortable anywhere else. Bars have a very glossy feel to them and I get looked up and down when I walk in the door. We miss the hallowed alleyways of Melbourne where nobody gives a hoot about what you're wearing or whose hand you're holding.
We also get asked by almost everyone we meet on the road who is heading to Melbourne, "Where are the best places to hit up for a true local's Melbourne experience?" So this list is for all the travellers we have met who want to have an incredible time in Melbourne, and a great excuse for me to take a walk down memory lane.
Here is my uniquely Melbourne after dark must-do list:
AC/DC lane, Melbourne
368 Victoria Street, North Melbourne
One for the artists, the academics, the tortured souls and lovers of Thom Waits, Prudence is much more polished than it used to be thanks to the outlawing of smoking inside, however it still holds all that is important. You can sit at private tables and booths downstairs, or enjoy a more open room upstairs. No matter where you are you will enjoy the fine wine, the cheap beer, the conversation, the record collection – just ask to have one that takes your fancy played - and the interesting choice of art. There is a John Wayne Gacey piece hanging on the wall of Prudence. If you're not sure who John Wayne Gacey is or why his art is noteworthy, then Prudence is not the place for you. If you're appalled or fascinated and want to talk about it, then come on in!
Style of Music: Anything on vinyl
Entry fee: nil
Best night to go: Weeknights other than Fridays, for a more authentic experience away from the crowds.
317 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
A Fitzroy icon, I have seen so many wonderful and inspiring bands at Bar Open that I have lost count. Smaller than your average share-house Bar Open is fueled by the blood, sweat and booze of the Melbourne live music industry. Be prepared to stand all night and be hit in the face with the hair/sweat of the singer in the tiny band-room upstairs, or opt for an armchair in the downstairs window to watch the world go by as you down your jug of tap beer with mates. Either way, nobody will look at you twice if you walk into Bar Open in a full Goth get-up, a pink tutu or in ripped jeans and a flannie. Bar like this are one reason I proudly call Melbourne home.
Style of Music: LIVE music
Entry fee: depends on the night
Best night to go: Anytime. Just check the board outside for details about what is on that night
Watch RocKwiz at the Espy
11 The Esplanade, St Kilda
Everyone will tell you to go to the Espy – every guidebook writer and Irish backpacker has had a beer at this important establishment and probably wondered why it is so iconic to Melbourners. If they had bothered to see any live music at the venue, they would know why. The Espy has hosted and nurtured almost every large rock or indie hand to come out of Melbourne. It is more than a pub, it is a community. Now because I have suggested you see live music at a few of these venues, I want to you to head to the Espy for another reason; to see the filming of RocKwiz. It will give you a great insight into just how passionate Melbounians are about their music and how important this venue is.
Style of Music: Rock
Dates and tickets: see RocKwiz official facebook page for when tickets go on sale
20 Centre Pl, Melbourne CBD
This one is for the after-work drinkers. Its CBD location is close to Flinders Street Station, making it a dangerously appealing stopover between your office cubicle and the crowded and probably late train. This place is loud, always. It's small so don't be discouraged if you can't find a seat right away, just hover for a while until someone leaves. There is nothing overly notable or remarkable about Hells Kitchen. There are no gimmicky drinks, no live music, the bartenders are surly at busy times and you can't hear what the person at the other end of the table is saying sometimes. All of this though is what Melbourne is to me. It's loud. It's noisy. It's eclectic and cramped. But it's comfortable. It's accepting of everyone and feels like home. Hells Kitchen is your never-fail meet up point for any day of the week. Whether it be for a beer before the game, a wine after work or a cocktail to celebrate your graduation from CAE just down the road. In my mind, Melbourne's best bar is hiding up a hidden staircase, above a juice bar.
Style of Music: whatever takes the fancy of the bartender that day
Entry fee: nil
Best night to go: Anytime.