Melbourne is famously known all over the world for its unique culture and the hunt to find it’s hidden laneways and quirky bars has become quite the sport for some. Of course, there are a few secrets that Melbournians like to keep to themselves and not share with tourists. And that’s where Walks 101 can help you bridge the gap. We joined Juliet and the gang on their ‘Uncover Hidden Laneways and Secret Bars Walking Tour’, and it certainly did not disappoint. 4 venues, 3 hours and 12 happy walkers later – the walking tour is the best way to discover where the locals like to hang out.
How to get there:
Gordon Reserve, 74-108 Spring Street, East Melbourne
By Foot: Meet your guides at Gordon Reserve water fountain located between Parliament House and The Old Treasury Building.
By Tram: All trams within the city zone are free in addition to the City Circle tram. Jump off on Spring Street and look out for your tour guides holding the blue umbrellas at Gordon Reserve.
- See Melbourne through the eyes of a local
- Visit 3-4 secret bars
- Learn about the history of Melbourne
- Personalised secret bar recommendations based on your drink of choice
- Watch mixologists at work or request bespoke cocktails made especially for you
- Meet new people and fellow travellers
What you’ll do:
We make our way to Spring Street just past the Old Parliament House to the Gordon Reserve water fountain to find our tour guide waiting with the big blue Walks 101 umbrella. There were approximately 20 of us but with two guides we found ourselves split into two groups which gave the walk a more intimate feel. It seems that everyone is keen for a drink because at 2.55 pm everyone has arrived and ready to go so we begin our adventure a few minutes early.
Our guide, Juliet, introduces herself to the group and explains that our afternoon adventure will take us to four hidden laneway bars in Melbourne. To reach the first location, we take a short tram ride through the heart of the city.
You could quite literally walk past it and that is half the fun of all these quirky bars and laneways in Melbourne. Juliet leads us to the back of the laneway where we arrive at the first bar.
As we learn, the bar sits on vacant space in a converted car park. And how best to make use of this prime real estate in the city you may ask? Well, you plonk a couple of shipping containers and steel beams down and turn it into a trendy two storey open-air bar- the latter shipping container serving as a laidback rooftop bar. It works really well and I can’t help but feel like I’ve become apart of an exclusive club. It’s an usually warm day in Melbourne and although we haven’t walked very far just yet, 3 o’clock seems like the perfect time to wet the whistle and throw back a drink.
The industrial designed bar is a cosy gathering space and live music venue specialising in cocktails, boutique wines and craft brews that seem to quench everybody’s thirst. The bar also supplies us with a complimentary platter of hommus dip and corn chips which go down well with everyone.
Once settled in, Juliet facilitates group introductions to help get everyone interacting with each other. It was a nice touch and she was really good at drawing the introverted into conversation removing any awkwardness that you may experience when a bunch of strangers come together. As we go around the group it becomes clear that 3/4 of us are Australians visiting Melbourne for the weekend BUT… we have all joined this tour for the same reason. A desire to do something unique off the beaten tourist track and go where the local Melbournians go.
We have around 40 minutes to get to know each other, enjoy a drink and take some photos before slipping off to venue number two.
The Old Banker’s Vault
If not for a velvet rope out the front you’d never know that down these narrow cement stairs is a very elegant Hogwarts like underground bar serving up fine cocktails and French Faire.
Once an old banker’s vault, this mysterious underground venue has been transformed into a hidden underground bar where food and alcohol are taken very seriously. We are not served by bartenders but rather mixologists who take meticulous care to make a cocktail you’ve never tasted before.
The moody décor of the bar combined with cosy leather booths and a floor to ceiling wall full of liquors bottles tell you immediately that you’ve come to the right place for a tipple. As the group peruse the drinks menu, we watch in awe as a drink is made using blowtorches and liquid nitrogen. It really is an art and it’s not long before everyone is rushing to place their own drink order.
Whatever your poison, this bar will not disappoint. The liquor is strong but tasty Reuben sandwiches go well in helping to line the stomach. Don’t be confused into thinking this is a bar crawl- this is a tour for the refined drinker wanting to try fine wine, beer, gin or one of a kind cocktails and unearth some of Melbourne’s secrets.
I chose the Evergreen cocktail made out of Bombay Sapphire, Kiwi Syrup, Umeshu and Marionette Cassis. (It was delicious by the way) .
There is something enticing about a bar steeped in history. If given a choice between a new modern bar or one filled with character I know which one I’d choose.
A historic building, rooftop bar and tequila…
The third venue we visit fits the bill effortlessly blending the old with the new. The seven floor building was first built in 1923 so don’t expect fast or modern lifts to navigate each floor. If you can manage the stairs then do so because you may be waiting a while for the lift.
The historic venue is an institution in Melbourne and is most well known for hosting the aptly named ‘Rooftop Bar’. Juliet tells us that in the summertime, the bar is the perfect place to watch a movie under the stars. We take a look around but as it is a busy Saturday afternoon we head downstairs to a quieter bar for a drink.
Here we find ourselves at a traditional Mexican bar and restaurant boasting an extensive collection of tequila. It’s an upmarket venue but there is not a pretentious air about it. While enjoying another beverage (not included in the tour) Juliet shares with us a gaggle of must-visit secret bars and where they can be found in the city based on our drink of choice and what we look for in a bar. Her knowledge alone is worth the price of the tour just to find out where all the secret bars are at.
Professional dancers were among some of the people on the tour and they were after a place to dance, while another man wanted a blues bar and then there were the gamers and the girls from the country having a wild weekend in the city…
We learn about a bar hidden in the back of a pizza shop, a piano bar, another exclusive venue so small it can only seat six people, a 90’s arcade style gaming bar, a Narnia style bar with entry through a closet, whisky bars, wine bars… the list goes on.
The time flies and we sneak off to our last venue but not before walking through each level to see the other bars located throughout the historic building.
As we approach a quaint and unsuspecting Victorian pub, Juliet leads us to our final secret bar of the tour. The intimate bar can be found after climbing the wooden staircase behind a bookcase in what gives off a ‘cabin in the woods’ vibe.
The bar features private rooms with leather recliner seats and a balcony from which to enjoy a drink as the sun goes down. Juliet explains that the bartenders here can mix you a bespoke cocktail. Simply tell them what mood you are in and they will create something delicious for you. It also happens to be the bar that is open the latest in Melbourne- 5 am on weekdays and 7 am on weekends. Party till dawn if you wish or end up here for a final nightcap.
The venue is the perfect place to end the tour and the remainder of the group kicks on afterwards to share a drink while we bid our farewells to head to our next adventure.
There is absolutely no way that we would have found any of these bars on our own and that is the beauty of discovering a new city with a local. Not only did we visit some hidden bars on the day but now can’t wait to return to Melbourne and visit a treasure trove of secret venues that Juliet recommended. I’ll be honest, I dragged my boyfriend along to this tour with me but afterwards, he did a complete 180-degree turn and said, “I’m so glad that we did that. I really enjoyed the tour.”
If you are looking to dive deeper into Melbourne’s underground bar scene and go where the locals go than I cannot recommend this tour enough. You’ll meet new people, discover a new city and learn a little about Melbourne’s history. Don’t be put off from booking the tour if you aren’t a big drinker though. I ordered a specially crafted mocktail at one of the venues because 4 cocktails in 3 hours is more than I would normally consume and my partner stuck to local craft brews throughout.
Basically, know your limits and don’t be that embarrassing person because the walking tour is for a more discerning drinking crowd that like to enjoy their choice of beverage in a unique setting and have a chat with new friends.
The walking tour is a fun and social way to explore a different side of Melbourne with like-minded travellers who are looking to do something unique and quirky. The venues do change on each tour; however, the ones we visited suited everyone’s drink of choice.
Our guide Juliet was friendly, full of energy and very good at getting everyone interacting so that no one felt excluded or awkward. If you are introverted or have ever travelled solo then you will understand that this can make a world of difference on tour.
To ensure that your walking tour is the best it can be, make sure to wear comfortable shoes even though there isn’t much walking and an umbrella if the weather is drizzly. Don’t forget that drinks aren’t included so budget $10- $20 per drink at up to four venues. The ‘Uncover Hidden Laneways and Secret Bars’ tour is an excellent way to explore Melbourne regardless of whether you are a local or a visitor. To discover where these hidden gems are, you can book yourself onto the walking tour right here.