Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published November 21st 2011
If there's one thing that defines Melbourne's bar culture, it's the hidden alleyway entrance. You know the kind of place: if you didn't, you'd never be able to find it. Part of the attraction is exclusivity, knowing that no wandering tourist is going to stumble across your hangout. You can sneak a covert glance over the rim of your drink at the fellow patrons; they, like you, know the city well. Why not take a date there – "this place is amazing," they'll exclaim, "I've been past here a thousand times and never seen it!" Exactly. That's the point.
Rue Bebelons is that kind of place. It's been around for more than fifteen years, back when you could use the word 'speakeasy' without sounding like a hipster. Then it was a haunt for night owls and insomniacs, clustering around their drinks in the small hours of the morning. Now it's a colourful bar that offers both light lunch and casual drinks at night. And it's still changing – soon they're going to expand into a rooftop area, the Rue Bebelons Rooftop. Get in there before it happens, then tell your friends you remember back when it was just an inside bar. It's open at 9am every day, of the week, and the earliest it shuts is 8pm on Monday. Thursday to Saturday you can hang around until three in the morning and recapture Rue Bebelon's decade-old roots.
Head down to 267 Little Lonsdale St in the morning, then, near the State Library, and grab a bite to eat. If the female barista is working the machine, go for a coffee as well (but give it a miss if there's a guy there). Like Kere Kere, the quality of the coffee varies wildly. For lunch, the baguettes are great value at six dollars each, especially considering that they all come with home-made mayonnaise. The soup of the day is a good choice, too – the Melbourne tradition is to price that at around ten dollars, but Rue Bebelons' soup is half that price.
The music is another distinguishing feature. Plenty of mediocre bars have an iPod plugged in or, worse still, the radio on (assuming there's no DJ). Tracks are chosen randomly, often leading to mood whiplash when a lazy 80s soul track is followed by Metallica. Rue Bebelons takes the old-school route and plays vinyl LPs from an eclectic in-house collection. According to their website, they've got 'Motown soul classics, latin street samba, and Brookyln funk', so if that's your thing, enjoy.
Rue Bebelons acquits itself well in the drinks department, offering a range of imported beers for eight dollars each (plus White Rabbit, fortunately), and a pretty standard wine list. The only problem: for cider, there's Gypsy pear and Rekorderlig lime and strawberry. It should be the other way around, since Rekorderlig lime and strawberry just tastes like juice but their pear cider is astonishing. Fortunately, the always reliable Pipsqueak apple cider is available as well, and you can get quite reasonably priced jugs of Pimm's punch and Sangria to share.