There’s been something strange in the warming Melbourne air of late. Sure, there are the sweet smells of flowers in bloom and the hum of outdoor cafes coming to life – and let’s not forget the sizzle of burgers and fries dancing to the waltz of stirred Negronis and pseudo-scientific cocktail pedantics preaching their chorus to rhythmic shakes and jigs. The trends of the city are indeed out in full regalia, singing their songs of handcrafted pomp and circumstance.
But there’s something else. Something hidden. Something dark. Something so beyond trend that it bucks the new wave with a swig of cheap beer and a Jack Daniels eagerly chasing behind. Yes, I’m talking about the dive bar – the primordial place of drunken debauchery and broken-heeled rock ‘n’ roll. Where whiskey dreams can come true and shatter soon after. A place where a night out can turn into the stuff of legends via bathtub gin and three too many boilermakers. As of late, a select few of Melbourne’s finest are dipping their toes into the dirty water. If the American greasy food trend can work, why can’t a dive? The Beaufort, run by fellow sailor-dive fanatic Dave Kerr, is one such place.
Hidden away amidst the hazy orange glow of sleepy Rathdowne Street in Carlton, one finds the faint flicker of a neon anchor beckoning those with a refined taste for the lowbrow. It’s dark, welcoming and loaded with well priced, quality booze and rock music. Awkward family photos? Check. Creaky old furniture? Check. Random fishing goods? Double check. This isn’t a place for a frilly mixology (though they still hand cut their ice); it’s a place to drink with your friends, make some new ones, settle into a burger and firmly shake hands with Jim Beam and a deep fried pickle. You leave your worries at the door and carve your wildest dreams into the bar. If there’s any place en route to the realm of the dive, The Beaufort is certainly on the fast track.
On a recent night there, while carving my name into the bar (highly encouraged) and nursing my second boilermaker, Dave and I wondered back to the drunken nights and stories of our favourite watering establishments. We spoke of the people, places and mysticism of our most cherished dives – the wastelands of smoke, dirt, leather jackets, bagged wine and the two-headed taxidermy. What we loved about the experience wasn’t something that you could categorise or put your finger on. There’s no rulebook for a dive. And therein lies the magic. The dive has a universality all its own, littered with folklore and alcoholic fairy tales of grit and grime. It can be old. It can be new. Whatever it is, it must be done right by both owner and patron.
The dirtier it gets, the better it gets. No tied-and-vested bartenders here. Ripped t-shirts, tattered jeans and scuffed boots are de rigueur. Think of it as bespoke tailoring with your middle finger – where using the toilet strikes a certain fear into the drinker and the only drink you should ever order starts with beer and ends with whiskey. And if the little scuba diver in the waterless fish tank looks like he’s swaying in the broken treasure chest, that’s probably because he is. And you need another shot.
Fancy a drink at The Beaufort tonight?