Here’s a brief Melbourne history lesson for you.
It’s hard to imagine, but Melbourne’s CBD used to be a ghost town after 6pm. Office workers couldn’t get home fast enough. In the mid-'80s, a mere 700 residents lived in flats in the CBD. When Crown Casino opened in 1997, premier Jeff Kennett introduced a new “small bar” licence that suited the casino’s needs to open a strip of bars along the river.
It had an unintentional effect: allowing other small bars to open all over Melbourne’s CBD. Many opened in laneways, because it was cheaper than a site on the main street.
Over time, Melbourne embraced “the adventure” of visiting a bar – finding it was half the fun.
You could break an ankle trekking over cobblestones to get to The Croft Institute in Chinatown. Legendary nightclub Honkytonks, which later became Third Class, was a laneway off a laneway. You need to know to ring the bell to get into Berlin on Corrs Lane, and how to find the secret “key” to access the hidden bar at State of Grace.
Now, with social media and fast-moving online publications (Broadsheet included), secrets don’t stay that way for long.
At the end of May, a new hidden bar opened in the city. The owners, Lazaros Papasavas and Mike Chen, are visibly conflicted in telling me about it.
“If you’re going to do something secret, you’re almost going against the principle by talking about it and promoting it. [It has] no name, there’s no social media,” Papasavas says.
“We’re not trying to be in your face, we’re just trying to be good at what we do. The genuine hospitality is more important to us than trying to get a social-media account.”
Inside, it’s a dark, cosy bar, just refitted in a seventies style by designer Wendy Bergman. Cocktails follow the retro theme – Harvey Wallbangers, Rusty Nails, Piña Coladas and so on. The vintage fantasy wavers slightly when you notice the White Russian is made with almond milk.
A secret bar is a nice thing while it lasts. How long does a secret stay a secret in this town, really?
So I’ll play along and not divulge the lot. But I’ll give you some clues.
1. It’s opposite one of Melbourne’s very first CBD laneway bars – which still operates.
2. The laneway is between Bourke and Collins Streets (and near Parliament Station).
3. Until recently, the site used to be an American soul-food restaurant (which has now closed). Same owners, though.
4. Follow the smell of melted cheese. You’ll find a new shopfront selling pizza by the slice (until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays – which is handy after a late-night session). Don’t be afraid to poke around for a subtle doorway.
Tue to Thu 12pm–11pm