Daffodils are in bloom, the chill is lifting and Arbory Afloat has a new look. It’s officially springtime in Melbourne. And this year, we’re headed to Mexico.

“I’m hoping a big explosion of colour hits people in the face when they arrive,” says Georgie Larkins, the creative director of HQ Group, which owns Arbory, as well as Her Bar, Her Rooftop and BKK.

Where last year was inspired by Spain’s Balearic Islands, this year’s colour scheme – and overall theme – take its cue from Mexico. Specifically, Guadalajara, Tulum and Oaxaca. A small crew from Arbory visited on a research trip earlier this year.

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“The buildings in central Oaxaca are magic,” says Larkins. “Every home is painted in a different vibrant colour with a contrasting detail colour.

“We asked a local about the story behind it. He said that when they receive the keys to their home, they’ll choose a colour – it’s a tradition of pride and possession.”

At Afloat this year, pretty much every hue on the colour wheel is represented – but fuchsia, bright green, and sunny yellow are some of the most heavily represented shades. Afloat’s usually uniform umbrellas are now as bright and contrasting as the buildings that inspired them.

The cocktail bar has a huge, cabana-style thatched roof that drapes down to frame the bartenders. And timber herringbone panelling throughout ramps up the beach vibes, too.

“There were hundreds of people working on Afloat this year,” says Larkins. “We think it’s going to be our boldest, brightest ever.”

In addition to classic cocktails, there are 13 signature cocktails, of which seven are agave-based. Two of the new highlights include a Spicy Margarita, available on tap, which combines Corralejo tequila with agave nectar habanero and pasilla chillies; and a boozy hibiscus iced tea. “Most Mexican taquerias, cantinas and local markets serve their own version [of a hibiscus iced tea],” says cocktail director Tom Younger. “It was definitely one of the drinks we saw the most on our travels.”

That roster is rounded out by frozen mango Margaritas; Espresso Martinis on tap; a horchata-based twist on a Pina Colada; and a mint-filled Mojito. And almost every cocktail is available by the carafe as well as by the glass. If you’d like to lower the ABV but stay spirited, there are six spritzes, six types of G&Ts and five non-alcoholic drinks to try.

The food menu has just as much of an emphasis on crowd-pleasing fun. Start off with something from the raw bar – you can take it easy with a half-dozen oysters dressed with a habanero oil mignonette, or you can go hard with a platter heaving with prawns, lobster, clams and scallops. There’s a range of small dishes, from elotes – charred corn topped with cheese – to empanadas, chilaquiles and a daily tostada.

There are six kinds of tacos to try, with fillings including Baja-style battered fish, barbeque lamb shoulder, oyster mushroom, and al pastor pork shoulder straight off the spit. There’s a handful of torta sandwiches to try, too. Pizzas are back, but toppings incorporate Mexican ingredients such as Oaxaca cheese, jalapeno salsa and corn.

The opening of Arbory Afloat is staggered this year, with parts of the upper and lower decks currently open. In the coming weeks, a refreshed pool area opens on the lower deck with its own agave bar, poolside beds and double day beds, along with a standalone taco hut delivering Al Pastor tacos hot off the spit.

Arbory Afloat
2 Flinders Walk, Melbourne

Daily 11am–late
(03) 9629 1547