Five of a kind: Counter meals

Coburg's Post Office Hotel serves up polished fare.
Coburg's Post Office Hotel serves up polished fare. 

The Post Office Hotel

LIKE the Tote for grown-ups, Coburg's art deco Post Office Hotel nails a great rock-pub vibe with live music, band posters, a pool table and co-owners with serious rock credentials. But if you're looking for more than a packet of chips or a knockabout backyard barbecue for a meal (even though the Post Office does barbies, grilling chilli king prawns or chicken), this polished version will fit the bill. While the dining hall offers fancier options, the bar menu is full of quality classics. Get a few friends together, haul up on the high stools at the front bar and order up a frosty jug and a plate of mulberry and black chilli lamb ribs.
229-231 Sydney Road, Coburg. 9386 5300.

The Montague

DOWN a lovely, leafy South Melbourne street, the Monty sits on a corner, the ideal local pub with a nice, deep bar, chatty bar staff and an easy ambience, perfect for solo dining or a lazy glass of something on the way home. Jonathan Knight from the Grand in Richmond is now at the helm as head chef, so the menu veers towards Italian but several counter-meal classics remain. The pie of the day is a pastry-clad wheel of fortune - you might strike the fish pie, made with dory, smoked salmon and kingfish, or the beef and red wine, maybe even the wild boar - while the sesame chicken wings are a popular snack with a beer.
355 Park Street, South Melbourne. 9690 9044.

The Dick Whittington

IT'S only been the Dick Whittington for 30 years, but this classic ponies, pots and parmas pub has been a licensed venue since 1861. There's always sport on the wall-mounted TVs and the food is unashamedly straight-down-the-line, no-mess, no-fuss, old-school pub grub. The bistro is a more upmarket affair, but the $16 bar menu comes with a free pot and features a good old spag bol, steak sandwich and beef burger. Wednesday is ''Blokes night'', when the fellas eat for half-price. But don't be tempted to ring the oversize bell hanging near the bar unless you're flush from a win because, as the sign warns, ''Ring the bell, shout the bar''.
32 Chapel Street, St Kilda. 9525 4250.

Steak at the Montague Hotel.
Steak at the Montague Hotel. 

The Royal Mail on Spencer

THE top end of Spencer Street can feel a bit scraggly and desolate, but the family-owned-and-operated Royal Mail on Spencer will put you right. The front bar ain't fancy, but the locals love it and the old-school meatiness of the pub classics menu: Donati's sausages with mash, house-cured corned beef with greens and piccalilli, a 200-gram steak. There's a larger dining room behind the bar (and more contemporary dishes to choose from), and a clutch of Chesterfield sofas perfect for a post-parma tipple. Plus the Royal Mail has ''Roadkill Wednesdays'' showcasing Australian game meats, if you're up for something different.
519 Spencer Street, West Melbourne. 9329 6955.

The Metropolitan

ON THE corner of the old Meat Market, the Metropolitan takes cosiness to the next level with wooden floorboards and sunlight oozing through the stained-glass windows. Australian-born, Canadian-trained chef Lawrence Richards rarely ventures out of the state for produce, so the menu is a real celebration of local flavours and the drinks list favours boutique beers and ciders. The express lunch features pub classics and, while the seafood linguine and the duck salad are crowd favourites, the steaks are the star of the show. Just make sure you order some 4 Pines stout cob loaf (house-made, including the starter) to soak up the sauce.
36-42 Courtney Street, North Melbourne. 9328 4222.