Collingwood Yards’ new rooftop bar, Runner Up, has garnered lots of hype since its recent opening – but it almost didn’t happen.

“Six months after agreeing to do this project, I got a piece of paperwork that said it couldn’t be used for a bar,” says co-owner Liam Alexander, who also runs Stay Soft Studio downstairs. “The whole project was gonna bend because the floor wasn’t rated.”

That’s the reality of trying to reimagine a space that’s more than 140 years old. But luckily, follow-up investigations laid any structural concerns to rest, and Alexander continued on with the project alongside Benny Rausa and Carlo Colosimo, who he owns Carlton nightclub Colour with, as well as musicians (of Aria-award-winning band Mildlife) and designers Kevin McDowell and Tom Shanahan, and mate Justin Tolliday.

Once a school, the whole Collingwood Yards precinct – which also includes glowing wine and pasta bar Hope St Radio – has undergone a mammoth transformation to become an arts hub. Runner Up occupies the former caretaker’s residence; the rooftop space has morphed into a hybrid bar and open-air courtyard with 270-degree views of the Collingwood surrounds, which really light up at sunset.

Scattered around you’ll find cumquat trees, as well as fig trees, a nod to the bar’s subtle Mediterranean theme. It’s “a bit of an Italian-Australian sort of vibe”, says Alexander.

Meanwhile, inside the owners have leaned into the building’s history; there are custom-made laminate tables featuring primary-coloured geometric prints, bright-orange vinyl chairs, velvet curtains and dreamy cloud-covered walls.

On either side of the bar, you’ll find vintage JBL speakers from Japan. “They’re the pride and joy,” says Alexander. Thanks to their horn-shaped design, they angle sound around the bar, even though they look like they’re facing forward. “The bartenders don’t cop it, but you still get a full sound in the middle of the room,” he says. “It’s the worst thing having to yell to order a drink.”

Thursdays through Sundays will see a rotation of DJs through the space, though the energy will be notably lower than at Colour – for now. “We plan on just being a bar,” says Alexander. “But there’s a bit of an aura around the place at the moment that feels like it might become a bit more than that.”

The drinks list mainly revolves around natural wines – all but one are from Australia or Italy. And sticking with the theme, there are also several amari, plus craft beers and a handful of fresh, bright cocktails. Think Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin spritzes, Aperol Sours, and a Bloody Martha inspired by nearby cafe Terror Twilight.

Though you can push the boat out with options like a $260 magnum of cuvee, there’s tap wine, beer and even one cocktail (the Bicicleta, a mix of rosé, Campari and soda) available for just $9. “That’s our conscious effort that if you don’t want to order the expensive thing, you won’t feel like you’re having a lesser experience,” says Alexander. “A $9 drink is a very rare thing anymore.”

Food is also reasonably wallet-friendly and on the lighter side, with snacks like tinned fish, dolmades and Chappy’s Chips. In the coming months, Alexander plans to launch Sunday dining pop-ups in the courtyard.

Runner Up
Level 2, 35 Johnston Street, Collingwood

Hours:
Wed & Thu 5pm–11pm
Fri 4pm–1am
Sat 1pm–1am
Sun 1pm–11pm

runnerup.net.au