Vietnam is building itself an enviable collection of beautifully designed cafes and bars. But for the city that has made bar design into an art form, you need to head to Melbourne. Words by Jon Aspin

 

In terms of those mid to high-end range bars to lose your wallet in, in Vietnam we’re punching well above our weight. Even if you didn’t see our December 2014 issue, where we handed out The Wordie Awards, you’re probably familiar with names like Martini Bar, Chill and Xu in Saigon. In Hanoi, it was the likes of 88 Lounge, Barbetta and CAMA ATK that made the cut.

 

As good as these joints are though, it’s good to get off the beaten track. So what better way to do that than leave the country, fly to Melbourne, and go on an inner-city laneway pub-crawl?

 

The plan was to experience as many of the city’s best bars as I could. Known for the uniqueness of its watering holes, there’s no such thing as a generic bar in the Central Business District (CBD). For company I had my friend Dani, a partner-in-drinking who’d told me previously that her favourite meal was gin.

 

Putting out the call for ideas on social media, I got some interesting responses. It didn’t matter in the end because at some point I deleted the message by mistake. I then ran out of Wi-Fi coverage. This is Australia we’re talking about — we don’t do Wi-Fi yet.

The Gin Palace 

The Gin Palace

10 Russell Place

ginpalace.com.au

 

First stop and I’d been here before. The ‘GP’ is a staple of Melbourne drinkers, a classy, cavernous boudoir — definitely no burger meal deals here, just awesome drinks. Dani said it had a “Saudi prince vibe”, which must be everything to do with the crushed velvet and tassles. Since my last visit they’d expanded, and in my opinion lost some of their intimacy. But this didn’t stop us getting intimate with a couple of world-class gin mixes — and immediately break our rule of one drink per location. If it weren’t for our stated mission, we would have easily settled in here for the night.

 

The best part? Despite appearances, not a hint of pretentiousness. Highly recommended — four-and-a-half stars.

Lily Blacks 

Lily Blacks

12 Meyers Place

lilyblacks.com.au

 

Lily Blacks was on the way to somewhere else, but was still on our radar. More of an after-worker than a late-nighter, by the time we got there it was empty. The bar has a rockabilly vibe about it, and even the Monday night barflies seemed like they’d be fun.

 

We did have rules to stick by, though, so the bartender put on quite a show of pouring us an espresso martini each. It was my fault; I shouldn’t have told him I was writing this article. But it was good, and I figured some caffeine with our alcohol wasn’t going to hurt us right now. See you next time Lily — three stars.

The Croft Institute 

The Croft Institute

Croft Alley

thecroftinstitute.com

 

The Croft is another Melbourne institution. It’s famous for test tube shooters and cocktail syringes, and is decked-out like a science lab crossed with an insane asylum. Not all of the three levels were open when we got there, at the end of one of the skankiest-slash-trendiest alleyways in town — you don’t even think you’re going to get there until you do.

 

It also attracts a lot of tourists, and we met a bunch of Swedish backpackers that night. Julia from Malmo said it was something she hadn’t seen before, and she’d definitely be back. Anna from Stockholm said something else, but the ’90s hip-hop was way too loud for me to know what. Sticky-floored fun, if only I was 10 years younger — three-and-a-half stars.

 

Lanes Edge Café

39 Bourke Street

lanesedge.com

 

Meyers Place was shut. Damn. Mondays aren’t good days for alcoholics. Never far from another drink, though, we simply went across the road to a beer garden, and it was actually pretty cool.

 

Lanes Edge Café had a well-stocked bar, a cosy backyard atmosphere and an owner who was way chill about us ordering after last shout. We got chatting to some locals, mostly international students taking advantage of the cheap long necks of Carlton Draught. They told us a bunch of stories about bars hidden in butcher’s freezers and happy hours hosted in disused shipping containers. We swapped contacts and promised to meet up next time. That might not happen, but you gotta love the Aussies sometimes.

 

Also, Lanes Edge had the hottest bar staff of the night — four stars.

Siglo 

Siglo

161 Spring Street

theeuropean.com.au

 

Our final stop. Happily smashed, Dani and I were ready to put this one to bed when we left Lanes Edge, but Siglo seemed to give us a second wind. Perched on a rooftop opposite Parliament House, right in the heart of the CBD, we were surrounded by the most eclectic and energetic crowd of the night.

 

Sat opposite was a bona fide metal band, who’d just performed a sell out show — those guys weren’t holding back. Some foreign suits with ‘friends’ sat nearby, it was approximately 2am by the way. Further away there were some bohemian artist types — was that a jazz cigarette I was smelling?

 

The drinks were high class, too, even if they were overpriced. The music was great — classic Motown hits. We were in the middle of the city and this was a good way to end our night. Laughing about how well it had all turned out, we made a good call to cut ourselves off just before someone else did. Thanks for the memories, Siglo. Can’t wait for my next ‘Old Cuban’ — four stars.

 

In Conclusion...

 

So there you are, five bars and about five hours of solid upmarket drinking in Melbourne’s famous CBD. This is by no way an exhaustive or definitive list, but if you want to get your dose of some of the most inventive (and fun) bars in the world, get yourself down to Melbourne.

 

Jon Aspin

Over the last 10 years, staff editor Jon Aspin has been producing ‘sparkling’ copy for everyone from mega rich beer companies and consumer electronics giants to local caravan dealers and Swedish Phd students. Born in the North East of England but raised in Australia, Jon has now worked on three continents, and remains curious about the others. Arriving in Vietnam 'on sabbatical' sometime during 2013, Jon soon got appointed ‘captain’ on a movie about a war and has tried not to look back since.

Website: https://twitter.com/jonnoirDBP

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