Lola Belle has a timeless quality. With its hand-built banquettes, bentwood chairs, venetian blinds, lead lighting and mossy green tiles along the arches of its mirrored backbar, the venue feels like it’s always been there.

The space that now houses the bar was built during the gold rush, when Melbourne briefly claimed the title of the world’s richest city – a time when its residents are said to have consumed more champagne than Parisians. Owner Huw Griffiths says the space has served multiple purposes over the years, including a wine merchant, a nightclub, a French restaurant, a fashion boutique, and even a lockdown coffee window for the local community (now Bell Street Coffee Window next door).

At this iteration, it’s all about rum and wine – or “sugarcane and champagne” as Griffiths, who also owns Union Electric, puts it.

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“We want quirks that differentiate ourselves,” Griffiths says. Order a drink from the menu titled “A Few of Our Favourites” and the team will get your liquor from a secret cupboard behind a painting. They also celebrate having XXXX Gold on tap alongside $50 glasses of champagne.

But what Griffiths really wants is for people to enjoy the rum – and to think beyond the standards. “If people think they don’t like rum, we’ll try to find something they like,” Griffiths tells Broadsheet.

“It’s all different. [Rum from] Barbados is delicious caramels, rum from Trinidad and Tobago is upright and elegant, while Mauritian rum is approachable and Australian rum has that molasses.”

For him rum, like wine, is defined by place. “Rum is a spirit that should be most influenced by terroir. It comes from a grass and tastes like the earth it’s grown in,” Griffiths says. “It’s the best way to travel without going anywhere.”

In addition to over 40 backbar spirits (mostly rums from around the world), there’s a changing selection of wines and a cocktail list built by Union Electric and Black Pearl alumni. It centres on the classic rum cocktail, the Daiquiri, with three variations: a light, a dark and the Hemingway (named for Ernest Hemingway, who is said to have requested this version – a double with rum, lime juice, maraschino liqueur and grapefruit juice – at El Floridita in Cuba).

“We can do the classics, but we want people to order their Daiquiri like they order a Martini – to know the style they like,” says Griffiths.

Lola Belle is decidedly not a restaurant. “We’re the before and after, or the long catch-up.” The simple food menu reflects this, with snacks including bread, tinned fish and cheeses with Wagyu bresaola and mortadella by Salt Kitchen cut on the bar-top meat slicer, beside the hefty jar of olives. The team is also planning to launch a menu of tributes to classic Melbourne bar snacks, as well as a killer Cubano, soon.

Plans for the venue will see the upstairs turned into an event space with a rum cellar and rooftop bar. Events will range from DJ sessions to a “rum club”, champagne nights, product launches and independent bottlings.

Lola Belle
233 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
No phone

Mon to Thur 4pm–11pm
Fri & Sat 12pm–1am
Sun 12pm–11pm