MANY AUTHENTIC, CHARACTER INFUSED local bars in Melbourne can be found not far from the city centre, in formerly working-class inner suburban areas such as Brunswick, Fitzroy, Collingwood and St Kilda. One popular example of this genre is The Catfish (30 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. 9417 6420), a supremely laid-back venue offering a rotating array of craft beers on tap, bottled beers and a selection of Australian wine. There’s also a kitchen serving Sparrow’s Philly Cheesesteaks (including an organic tofu variant for vegetarians), a small rear beer garden, upstairs pool table, Tuesday comedy nights and regular live music sessions. The Catfish is also a regular destination for nursing and medical staff from the nearby St Vincent’s Hospital looking to unwind at the end of their working day, and visitors to Melbourne will often find themselves in conversation with both local residents and the friendly proprietors and bar staff. The perfect place to begin or end a visit to the Fitzroy area, and also as a destination in itself, The Catfish is an ideal introduction to Melbourne’s justly renowned reputation for playing host to a wide array of welcoming and idiosyncratic inner city and inner suburban bars.
The Retreat Hotel (280 Sydney Road, Brunswick. 9380 4090) features just about all the ingredients required for the perfect inner-city pub, heritage (established in 1842), live music, a beer garden, decent pub food (with dishes such as lentil shepherd’s pie and a black bean, mushroom and brown rice burger ensuring vegetarians will also feel right at home), and of course, the most vital ingredient of all—an abundance of character.
One venue which has (despite exponentially rising land prices and the area’s ongoing gentrification) managed to retain 110% of its true Fitzroy character, is The Napier (210 Napier Street, Fitzroy. 9419 4240), where local brews, pool, a courtyard, fireplaces and a legendary towering, cholesterol-laden construct known as a Bogan Burger (delicious but not for the faint hearted) combine with the requisite intangible inner-melbourne ambience to draw in cheerful crowds of appreciative regulars.
The Standard Hotel (293 Fitzroy Street, Fitzroy. 9419 4793) manages to perfectly live up to its own mantra—“hard to find, easy to love”—in that it lies nestled in a slightly confusing maze of one way streets, but rewards the intrepid explorer who finally manages to find it, with a warm interior (the venue dates back to 1865), a renowned beer garden, large dining area, live music and, of course, lashings of that hard to define, but genuine, inner-city Melbourne character.
What was once known as Lime Restaurant, located within the Mercure Melbourne Treasury Gardens, has undergone a transformation recently to unveil Hop Sing Bar & Food. Open to the public (not just hotel guests) Hop Sing serves up an Asianinfused hawker style menu that’s absolutely perfect for sharing. With relaxing views of Treasury Gardens complementing the superb cuisine, Hop Sing Bar & Food is the perfect dining spot for business breakfasts, pre-theatre dinners, family meals and happy hour drinks. At Hop Sing Bar & Food they encourage the spirit of eating and drinking together, with a menu designed for sharing. Choose from an amazing array of dishes from their Asian-infused menu. Enjoy your meal with a selection from their wide-ranging wine list, or enjoy one of their local craft beers.
Daily 10am–late, Mercure Melbourne Treasury Gardens, 13 Spring Street, Melbourne. 9205 9999. mercuremelbourne.com.au
The Catfish. Photo: Amy Woodward.