Since 1878 this grand seaside hotel has been a centrepiece of St Kilda, and a live-music icon. It’s hard to overstate what The Espy means to many Melburnians.
The redevelopment was immense. The Espy has 12 bars, three stages and two restaurants across six levels (formerly three) of a 140-year-old building.
Through the retractable glass ceiling, you can look up at the upper levels of the building, while large front-facing windows offer views of St Kilda and Port Phillip Bay. You can brunch here on the weekends (crab omelettes, green nourish bowls), then sip cocktails and tap beer until the sun sets (and well after).
The large wall at the back of the main staircase is faded and peeling. Some sections of the ceiling are the 140-year-old original and others are brand new, but you won’t see the difference. It’s the work of painter Meg Milton, who specialises in making the new look old.
Three spots are dedicated to live music. At the base of the grand staircase a round stage hosts small bands and DJs, and a basement bar downstairs is for emerging and local acts. The Gershwin Room is the music heart of the Espy and it has a new sound system and air conditioning.
The easy-going Public Bar is at the bottom corner of the building. A path of old Espy gig posters (thousands of which were found rolled up in storage during renovations) lead down to the Basement Bar.
At The Espy Kitchen grab a seat by the glass-walled corridor and watch bands walk from green room to stage. The walls are lined with new and old oak barrels, used for a bespoke barrel-ageing program featuring spirits, cocktails and even beer, with Mountain Goat and Stomping Ground both involved.
On the menu, Moreton Bay bug rolls; beef tartare with black bean and potato crisps; and barbeque octopus with green chilli and tomato, or prawns with garlic butter. More substantial is the whole rotisserie chicken with fries and gravy, or the baby snapper with fingerlime and parsley. Pizzas come topped with San Marzano tomatoes, ‘nduja, buffalo mozzarella, pecorino and fresh basil; or confit garlic, mozzarella, scamorza, black pepper and parmesan.
The wine list is wallet friendly – you can get a glass of bubbles for under $10 and no bottles in any of the bars cost more than $100. The lists offer a solid mix of accessible and gently challenging, mostly local drops with a few European cameos. The Seaside Spritz is strawberry, Aperol, watermelon, soda and sparkling wine. There’s also Espresso Martini, Aperol spritz and Pimm’s cup on tap. A lengthy list of local craft beers sits alongside Corona, Carlton Draught and Asahi.
The upper levels of the venue include Cantonese restaurant and cocktail bar Mya Tiger and cocktail bars the Green Room and Ghost of Alfred Felton.