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

Lay Low Bar

Expert cocktails and Greek snacks hidden inside a clothing store.

93 Buckley Street, Seddon

Above Board

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 Americano

Matt Bax has always had a penchant for odd or difficult spaces, and this standing-room-only bar dedicated to classic cocktails is no exception. It's hidden just past the bend in Presgrave Place.

20 Presgrave Place, Melbourne

The Croft Institute

A science lab-themed institution hidden two turns-deep in an incredibly dingy alleyway.

21-25 Croft Alley, Melbourne

Pizza Pizza Pizza

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

16 Meyers Place, Melbourne

Madame Brussels

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

Level 3 59-63 Bourke St, Melbourne

New Gold Mountain

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

21 Liverpool Street, Melbourne

Goldilocks 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

Berlin

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

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

Boston Sub / Jungle Boy

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

96 Chapel Street, Windsor

Ponyfish Island

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