Best Hidden Bars in Melbourne

Updated 4 months ago

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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. These are some of Melbourne’s best.

  • In a timber-panelled room that feels of another time, get ready for four types of Martini, a daily menu of shellfish on ice, and a stand-out crème caramel dessert.

  • This tranquil bolthole amid the bustle of Chinatown is built on the motto “drink less, drink better”. It’s pouring small-batch whiskies and a tight list of cocktails. Why not stay for just one – or two?

  • 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.

  • Walk down the nondescript staircase and let your eyes adjust. There’s no natural light at this New York-inspired French bistro – that’s why it’s so easy to lose track of time here. It's also home to one of Melbourne's most famous late-night burgers.

  • Descend a dark spiral staircase into this theatrical basement cocktail bar. Wrapped in a cocoon of timber, it’s the recipient of some major international design awards. But don’t let the incredible space distract you from the drinks – expect smoke, bubbles and plenty of flair.

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  • Lively cocktails and refined snacks are on the cards at this dark and daring basement bar. But it’s really the wine list you come here for – it’s an adventure in unfamiliar regions and varietals, and focuses on biodynamic and sustainable drops.

  • New York-style pizzas out front; one of Melbourne’s best-kept secrets out back. Once you’ve finished a slice or two, push past the black curtain at the end of the dining room to find a comfy, sitting-room-only bar specialising in classic cocktails.

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

  • It might take you a minute to find the door, hidden inside Hareruya Pantry. But up the discreet staircase lies a beautifully minimalist bar with expertly crafted temaki rolls (cone-shaped hand rolls), and a 50-strong sake list favouring female brewers.

  • Inside the slick shopfront of clothing store Brixton Pound you’ll find a nondescript door painted charcoal grey. There is no signage, but through that door and at the end of a narrow corridor is a neighbourhood bar with expert drinks and Greek snacks.

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  • 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.

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  • This extravagant rooftop bar – best described as a cross between a garden party and a sky-high country club – is accessed via an unmarked lift. Come here for big spritz jugs and a signature poached chicken sandwich.

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  • Sister to Chinese restaurant Double Happiness, this cocktail and wine bar is one of Melbourne's best kept laneway secrets – and not just due to its hidden red door and a total absence of signage.

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  • At this long-running rooftop bar, there's an emphasis on cocktails and comfort. The team lets the cocktails, snacks and view do the talking. And the retractable rooftop makes it a great all-weather option.

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  • Inside Japanese fine diner Akaiito, follow the luminous red thread downstairs to find this subterranean bar serving pan-Asian snacks and low-waste cocktails.

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  • 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.

  • Walk up to the second floor, ring the doorbell and hope there's room in this East and West Berlin-themed bar. Even though it’s fancy on one side of the room and grungy on the other, the drinks are world-class no matter where you sit.

  • Open up the coolroom door behind the sandwich counter at Boston Sub and you’ll discover a secret entrance to hidden cocktail bar, Jungle Boy. Its dim lighting, hanging plants, snarling animal heads on the walls and cocktails served in tiki mugs will make you feel like you’re at a tropical-themed house party.

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

  • Fall From Grace is the aptly-named cellar bar hiding beneath State of Grace, a classic Melbourne bar with big old-world energy. A sliding bookcase reveals a dimly lit den with a gothic speakeasy vibe.

  • This dim, characterful basement serves a wide range of proper tacos until 3am every night of the week. Do you even need to know more? Okay: there are over 70 mezcals and 20 tequilas on the back bar.

  • The “mischievous little brother” to Seamstress upstairs is so small and dimly lit, it feels like it could be anywhere in the world. Rest assured, the bartenders know what they’re doing here – and they do it with a total lack of pretension.

  • Head to this subterranean basement bar for cocktails by one of Melbourne’s best bartenders, and snacks that let the drinks shine. We’re fans of the Big Mac-inspired calzone served with pickles, lettuce and onions.