Melbourne would be a very different place today if not for a small piece of legislation passed in 1994, which allowed bars to operate without serving food. This was a revelation for a city still living in the shadow of the temperance movement.

The law was passed for the benefit of the newly built Crown Casino, but it also drew young, cash-strapped bar owners to Melbourne’s dingy laneways, starting an unintentional revolution. The setup is familiar today: turn a few unlit corners, pass a stinking dumpster, push through an unmarked door and suddenly, you're in a plush cocktail den.

Even with advent of the internet, Google Maps and city guides such as Broadsheet, the thrill of finding these bars – or better yet, the cultural cache of knowing them already – has barely dimmed.

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Best Cocktail Bars in Melbourne
Best Whisky Bars in Melbourne
Best Neighbourhood Bars in Melbourne

Above Board

Bar

Walk down an alleyway that's not even listed on Google Maps. Enter an unmarked door. Ascend a flight of stairs. Congratulations, you've found this 16-seat cocktail bar with echoes of Japan.

Level 1 306 Smith Street (access through Chopper Lane), Collingwood

Bar Margaux

Restaurant

Walk down the nondescript staircase and let your eyes adjust. There’s no natural light at this bistro – that’s why it’s so easy to lose track of time.

Basement 111 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne

Pizza Pizza Pizza

Restaurant

Classic pizzas out front. And one of Melbourne’s best-kept secrets hidden out back.

16 Meyers Place, Melbourne

Lay Low Bar

Bar

Expert cocktails and Greek snacks hidden inside a clothing store.

93 Buckley Street, Seddon

Madame Brussels

Bar

This ever-popular rooftop garden party is accessed via an unmarked lift.

Level 3 59-63 Bourke St, Melbourne

New Gold Mountain

Bar

Just look for the red door to find Double Happiness's Chinese-themed sister bar.

21 Liverpool Street, Melbourne

Goldilocks Bar

Bar

Enter Mr Kwok on the ground floor, then climb to the fourth floor to get a piece of this relaxed rooftop.

Level 4 264 Swanston Street, Melbourne

Beneath Driver Lane

Bar

If you take a walk down Driver Lane at night you’ll see a man and a velvet rope. Descend the stairs and you’ll reach a giant glass door that (automatically) swings opens to reveal a low-lit, cavernous cocktail den.

2 12 Driver Lane, Melbourne

Berlin

Bar

Walk up to the second floor, ring the doorbell and hope there's room in this East and West Berlin-themed bar.

2nd floor (please ring the bell) 16 Corrs Lane, Melbourne

Hell's Kitchen

Bar

Next to the Jungle Juice Bar, look for the kegs stacked outside an open doorway, with stairs beyond. Upstairs, a homey, no-frills bar awaits.

Level 1 20a Centre Place, Melbourne

Pomelo

Bar

Hidden above ambitious (and ridiculously pretty) cocktail bar Bouvardia, this sneaky rooftop dials up the fun with house-made seltzers, boozy slushies and park-ready wines.

Level 3 169 Melbourne Place, Melbourne

Boston Sub / Jungle Boy

Restaurant

A late-night sub shop with a tropical-themed cocktail bar hidden behind a coolroom door.

96 Chapel Street, Windsor

Ponyfish Island

Bar

This relaxed spot takes the prize for hiding in plain sight – it's floating in the middle of the Yarra, under the Southbank Footbridge.

Southbank Pedestrian Bridge , Southgate

Trinket Bar

Bar

A Black Swan-esque ballerina guards the entrance to Trinket, a hive of boozy snacks and hefty cocktails – with another bar hiding underneath.

87 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

Curious

Bar

Descend a dark spiral staircase into this basement cocktail bar wrapped in a cocoon of timber, where you’ll find theatrical drinks with smoke, bubbles and art.

408 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

State of Grace

Bar

Fall From Grace is the aptly-named cellar bar hiding beneath this old-world-inspired spot. A sliding bookcase reveals a dimly lit den with a gothic speakeasy vibe.

27 King Street, Melbourne
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