Stepping off Gertrude Street into The Lame Duck is like entering a vintage fever dream. After walking through the reflective gold front door, up the stairs and past cardboard Cher at the DJ booth, you’ll find ’70s wooden wall panelling, electric-pink zebra-striped doors and giant glowing lightning bolts. Evoking film-set dive bars and neon dance floors, the bar feels like an alternate universe in which the disco kids and the hair-metal rockers decided to stop fighting and party together. It’s got a late 4am licence and strong tables – dancing on them is encouraged.
Co-owners and mates Samantha Sleigh and Letitia Lillis wanted a place that suited their eclectic personalities. The idea for the fit-out was to evoke the feeling of your parents’ ’70s rumpus room “after the kids have gone to bed.”
Joining Cher are more life-sized cut-outs of Siegfried and Roy – that were liberated from a Christmas party – and there’s a purple-topped pool table, and Playboy pinball machine featuring groan-and-moan sound effects. But amongst all the ephemera Sleigh and Lillis’s pride and joy is their original Big Mouth Billy Bass. The singing fish is the genuine article from 1999.
“It’s the only one that sings Al Green,” says Sleigh. Later models that don't feature Green's Take Me to the River won't cut it here.
Both Sleigh and Lillis have long associations with the Melbourne’s music scene. The pair had a hand in opening the now-closed live-music venue W4 in the CBD, and Prahran’s outdoor bar Bird Watching Society with Strawberry Fields and Let Them Eat Cake organiser Elliot Rothfield.
“Everything we've done is diversely different – [each venue is] just fun and crazy and they don't make sense,” says Sleigh.
Recently – along with Untitled Group – they helped organise the massive Wool Store day party featuring Croatian tech-house DJ Solomun in West Footscray.
Accordingly, music is a big part of The Lame Duck experience too – it would be hard to pull off the kitsch decor without a great soundtrack. Expect funk and soul on Friday, yacht rock on Saturday, and legendary Melbourne DJ (and close friend of the owners) Jnett will play a set of rare grooves every Tuesday. At all other times, be prepared for impromptu group singalongs to Phil Collins’s In the Air Tonight.
Cocktails popularised in the ’70s and ’80s have been updated and float between disco-era classics and beach-holiday quenchers. The Do You Like Pina-rita is a hybrid Pina Colada-Margarita with coconut tequila, coconut cream and pineapple juice. The bar’s signature cocktail, the Lame Fluffy Duck, drops advocaat (an egg and brandy liqueur) from the original recipe to combine gin, Aperol, egg white and lemon.
There’s a small bar-snack menu that sits between house party and family gathering. Get a four-cheese toastie with crisps, just like mum used to make for you and your friends (vegan-cheese options available too) or there’s a cheese-fondue twist – a whole wheel of baked camembert served with crusty bread and crudites.
The Lame Duck
1/247 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Tue to Thu 4pm–late
Sat & Sun 2pm–late
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on December 12, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.