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Rooftop Bars

Home > Melbourne > Bars
Published February 1st 2011
Summer seems to have been only reluctantly crawling back into our backyard once more, temperamental as the stormy outbursts and flooding rains have been. But it's clear that the warm sunny days that we do have are only going to get warmer, and sunnier, and more frequent. And while this is on the whole a good thing, Melbourne's culture as a lane way centred, coffee-swilling city, is not the place to find yourself stuck in a hip but badly air conditioned nook or cranny caf in the middle of summer. While in winter, the more obscure and hard to find a lane way caf is, the better, in summer every new lane becomes a deeper circle of hell, only hotter, and with just as little airflow.

Luckily, over the last few years or so, a trend has been developing to shift Melbourne's lifestyle choices to a higher level - the rooftop level in fact, and it's no exaggeration to say that relaxing on a rooftop overlooking the CBD with a cool drink in hand is truly the best way to rise above the heat. It's amazing how small all of life's problems seem when viewed from a couple of extra levels up. But where to go? you ask. Well, there are many contenders in the rooftop hall of fame, but to take you on a mini-tour here are a couple which top the list for you to set your drinking sights on:

First stop is what might be deemed the best known rooftop bar in Melbourne, a fact owing in part to its well thought out name, The Rooftop, but also to its convenient and stylish location atop the ornate Curtin House building on Swanston St (go on, climb the stairs the whole way up - I dare you, you'll feel better for it). The bar itself has a relaxed atmosphere during the day - almost too relaxed during long, hot summer days when hours can be spent lolling in the colourful deck chairs spread out across brilliant green astroturf with beer in your hand, friends by your side and a cool, seventh floor breeze in your face. At night, when the heat drops the small space is transformed into a rooftop cinema, showing a good mix of older and newer cult films (see link below for 2011 program). The cinema runs from the beginning of December till the end of March and screenings start at 9pm with the doors opening at 8, so there is plenty of time to grab some food in China town before the show, especially with so many good dumpling restaurants a mere stumbling distance away.

For your next stop, you might try the balcony of Lounge. Although just across the road from the Curtin House, it sports a completely different atmosphere and during its happy hours (2-5pm) the balcony is crammed with students and alternative types either standing, scouring the tables of punters anxiously hoping for a spot to open up, or sitting down contentedly and enjoying the cheap jugs of beer and a very substantial plate of nachos. The Lounge is one of those few remaining places to have a non-pretentious beer in Melbourne in relaxed surroundings where you can stare down at the passing trams, horse-drawn carriages and weary pedestrians as they amble and rush up and down Swanston St. Relax, and relish the fact that you are not one of them.

Should your tastes run to something a little less expected and a lot more eye-popping than the Lounge, head next to Burke Street and check out the Carlton Hotel, or rather the rooftop Palmz (that's right, with a 'z') bar area. I didn't think that the Carlton could raise its level of wonderful eccentricity any further, what with the large and fascinating taxidermy display in the main bar (yes, that is a real giraffe you see, and yes, same goes for the ostrich), however heading up from the lower levels to the tropical oasis that is the rooftop is an amazingly surreal experience, best enjoyed with a pia colada and a pair of very large sunglasses. Palm trees, a tropical style hut for the bar, plastic furniture and a poolside/Malibu feel to this place make it a treat to retreat to when the weather heats up.

On the theme of eccentricity, enter Madame Brussels. While it's certainly not the first or only bar in Melbourne to have implemented fake grass into its design, Madame Brussels takes the cake for having done so on such an explosive level and somewhat inverted level, covering the inside section of the bar's floors and walls in finely manicured astroturf. To this, they add white, retro garden furniture and a whimsical design sense to create a visual explosion that is strong enough to transport you back to a bygone era of garden parties and croquet.This is a place to get dressed up for, where tweed for the gentlemen and a nice vintage-cut dress for the ladies would not be amiss, and in fact would be bound to only add to the fun of drinking from one of the summer cocktail jugs on offer (the Pimms jug being particularly enjoyable on a hot day) while nibbling on a freshly baked cupcake which is almost more icing than cake.

So beat the heat. Head upstairs, and up some more stairs, and a couple more, until you reach the top level gasping for breath but ready to drink in arguably the best possible way this summer. You'll soon be begging the weather to go through a 40 degree heatwave.

Sixth Floor, Curtin House
252 Swanston Street
Website and Program

First Floor
243 Swanston Street

193 Bourke Street

Third Floor
63 Bourke Street
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Why? Because the best way to deal with the heat is to rise above it.
When: Whenever the weather heats up.
Where: Rooftops all around Melbourne.
Cost: Drink prices will vary.
Great list. I have always loved Madame Brussels, it being one of the first bars in Melbourne I was ever taken to, after moving here from Perth a couple of years ago. That 'Palmz' place also sounds pretty intriguing- I am curious to see the stuffed ostrich.

Also a good place to check out is 'Campari House' on hardware lane. There is a bit of a climb, but nowhere near as extreme as the one up to Rooftop, and the stairwell is pretty crazy- it looks as if it was painted by a schizophrenic.
By Laura Woollett - senior reviewer
Friday, 18th of February @ 07:10 am
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