If Melbourne were buried by a sudden Mount Vesuvius-like event, one of the things that may puzzle future archaeologists is why Melburnians, blessed with neither kindly weather nor spectacular topography, were so drawn to eating and drinking on rooftops. Intrepid researchers might stumble across the 2007 ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, which led to a flurry of building activity on city roofs so people could continue to drink, eat and puff, while others may point to the fact a lack of naturally elevated viewing spots forced the view-starved populace to head, like meerkats, for the nearest available vantage point.
Whatever the reason, Melbourne is awash with hospitable, comfortable and often-luxurious rooftops that run the gamut of eating and drinking options from champagne and caviar to beer and snags. With most of these eyries weatherproofed, the al fresco life is even available all year round, obviously a good thing for a population eager to get into the great outdoors. Even better, there's pretty much a rooftop for every occasion.
1. THE LONG AFTERNOON INTO EVENING DRINK
Naked in the Sky, rooftop, 285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 9416 2238.
Naked in the Sky threw down the view gauntlet from the moment it opened in late 2012, several storeys above sibling bar Naked for Satan, and with a brilliant wraparound terrace that takes in the city skyline, the distant Dandenongs and surrounding Fitzroy. With wooden decking, party lights, colourful folding chairs and glass walls offering protection from the elements (and, one would presume, well-oiled mishaps), this is one of the finest places in Melbourne to watch the sun go down and the lights go up.
To drink A great beer list including Naked for Satan Ale and the hop-driven Itchy Green Pants. But really, a terrace and a sunset calls for gin and tonic (a decent list of gin has something for most tastes).
To eat The snack menu is excellent, with plenty of the salty-fried stuff done with imagination and finesse. The salt cod burger ($8) is garnering a cult following but the crab-stuffed pimientos ($12) and the beef skewers with padron peppers ($14) also reward ordering.
The vibe A little overexcited.
2. CIVILISED CASUAL
Union Dining Terrace, 270 Swan Street, Richmond, 9428 2988.
With its timber-topped tables, canvas market umbrellas, terracotta tiles, lush pot plants and views over the rooftops of Richmond, Union Dining Terrace straddles well-heeled apartment balcony and classic European hotel terrace. It's a very grown-up kind of rooftop space, genteel rather than raucous, with its own bar and staff who, perhaps because of all the fresh air, seem to be in an unshakeably good mood. Owner-chef Nicky Riemer's food, never complicated in the first place with her Italo-phile lean towards good ingredients simply cooked, keeps it simple and classic, with reasonable prices to match.
To drink Aperol or Campari spritzer, a jug of Pimms, a Bress Harcourt Apple Cider.
To eat Piedmont-style beef tartare with pecorino and horseradish ($17), bruschetta with artichokes, broad beans, peas and ricotta ($14.50).
The vibe Suave but relaxed.
3. PENTHOUSE STYLE
The Aylesbury Rooftop, Level 5, 103 Lonsdale Street, city, 9077 0451.
Anyone who has ever craved a space-age bachelor pad should achieve some kind of closure at the Aylesbury Rooftop. Surrounded by city buildings, the sexy, dark, glass-walled interior space, complete with a copper-topped bar with a small kitchen (with dedicated chef) down one end opens to a compact, nicely proportioned terrace, ticking all the city-bar boxes with Mad Men-ish aplomb. The cocktails are strong, the bar snacks come at you hot and fast and there's plenty of room for dreams of a more glamorous lifestyle among all those city lights.
To drink Classic cocktails of the negroni/ martini variety are a must in a location like this.
To eat There's a Spanish lean to the food, whether it be flash-fried padron peppers, eel croquettes, patatas bravas or an ever-changing mix of bocadillos. Chat to the chef over the bar to see what's good that night.
The vibe Penthouse party.
4. GOOD GENES
Wolf's Lair, Jimmy Watson Lane, Carlton, 9348 0385.
The latest chapter in the long-running Jimmy Watson tale, Wolf's Lair is a laneway bar that adjoins the famous JW courtyard and includes a pretty fabulous rooftop terrace complete with Astroturf, candlelight, potted plants and timber-and-white mesh furniture. Just like its famous relative, Wolf's Lair attracts a diverse crowd that seems to frequent the roof at proscribed times. Late weekend afternoons, there'll be families and a goodly smattering of kids, while a few hours later, arty, studenty types rule the roost. It's relaxed, good-natured and a worthy new branch on the Watson family tree.
To drink Wine is an obvious choice, given the lineage but there's a great list of thirst-quenching cocktails jugs (including the famous Dry & Dry - dry ginger and dry vermouth served with fruit) that seems to fit the garden-party vibe.
To eat A compact list of old-school bar snacks of the antipasto/cheese platter variety.
The vibe Good-natured bohemia.
5. BAYSIDE BREEZE
Captain Baxter, St Kilda Sea Baths, 10-18 Jacka Boulevard, St Kilda, 8534 8999.
It sure ain't Sydney Harbour but the view of the bay from the upstairs terrace at Captain Baxter is still enough to lift the spirits on a sunny day. Decked out in a faux resort style - fake grass underfoot, blue-and-white striped upholstery on oversize banquette-like couches, raised bench tables, brand-marked umbrellas, an outdoor bar, a cheesy, greatest hits soundtrack - the Deck does a good line in cocktails that taste even better when lounging back watching red-faced joggers pant past on the boardwalk below.
To drink To go with the resort theme, you really need to head for the cocktail list and then focus on rum. The Tahitian Colada (rum, pineapple, lime, coconut) is a good place to start.
To eat The food can be a bit patchy at the Captain, so it's best to keep it as simple as possible (grilled octopus salad, charcuterie) or else just stick with the cocktails.
The vibe Resort envy.
6. RETRO ON THE ROOF
Mt View Hotel, 70 Bridge Road, Richmond, 9428 3973.
Richmond hotels seem to have a penchant for rooftops (the Richmond Club and the Corner are also on the team), perhaps because of easy accessibility to city-skyline views that unfailingly boost the thirst. The new timber, tile and glass deck on the roof of the Mt View certainly has no shortage of glittering views but sticks steadfastly to its pub roots, both with the continent-leaping array of cuisine (tapas, yum cha, Madras chicken) and with an enormously entertaining cocktail list not afraid to fly in the face of present cocktail fashion by including Sex on the Beach and Tequila Sunrise in the mix. With its own bar, strings of fairy lights and an upfront hospitable attitude, you may find yourself parked here longer than anticipated.
To drink Get with the retro cocktail spirit and order a house special, the Swedish Bubblegum, an eye-watering combination of Baileys, banana liquor, Blue Curacao and milk.
To eat Head for the classic section of the menu - burgers, parma, fish and chips, all at very reasonable prices ($16.90-$24.90).
The vibe Elevated classic Aussie pub.
7. MELBOURNE CLASSIC
Siglo, 161 Spring Street, city, 9654 6631.
Something of a rooftop rite of passage, Siglo combines spotlit views of historic city landmarks with an unmistakeably European vibe (helped immeasurably by the clouds of cigar smoke wafting about) and, despite the constant crush of people waiting for a table, a feeling of cool, calm collectedness once you actually score a seat. There's table service, good cocktails, excellent whisky and wine and a list of bar snacks that shows true understanding of what a bar snack needs to be. It's a good-looking space, too, with the ability to make everybody in (on?) it seem more glamorous - the reason, perhaps, for its immense popularity.
To drink The extensive wine list is always tempting at Siglo, especially for Old World buffs, but there's skill aplenty behind the bar, so a very dry gin martini with an olive might be in order.
To eat Siglo's menu runs the gamut from caviar to party pies, stopping off at toasted sandwiches (including an excellent Croque Monsieur) and charcuterie along the way.
The vibe Are we still in Melbourne?
Even more rooftop fun
8. Madame Brussels Level 3, 59-63 Bourke Street, city, 9662 2775.
Vibe Sexy 1920s fantasy vibe that includes cucumber sandwiches and Pimms.
Imbibe Poached chicken sandwich and sparkling rose´.
9. Rooftop Bar & Cinema Level 7, Curtin House, 252 Swanston Street, city, 9654 5394.
Vibe A glorious slice of New York bohemian romantic drag in the middle of the city.
Imbibe Misschu ricepaper roll and a longneck.
10. The Local Taphouse 184 Carlisle Street, St Kilda East, 9537 2633.
Vibe Cosy (there's a fireplace), secluded haven perfectly suited for a session on the craft beer.
Imbibe Tapas and beer.
11. Blue Diamond Level 15, 123 Queen Street, city, 8601 2720.
Vibe A heady mix of altitude, entertainment, cigar smoke and Rat Pack glamour.
Imbibe Wine and cheese.
12. Campari House 23-25 Hardware Lane, city, 9600 1574.
Vibe Private party at your new best friend's rooftop apartment.
Imbibe Pizza and schooners.
13. Red Hummingbird, Level 1, 246 Russell Street, city, 9654 2266.
Vibe A Bali-resort look and feel that's surprisingly effective in the city centre.
Imbibe Cocktails and bar nibbles.
14. Tuscan Bar 79 Bourke Street, city, 9671 3322.
Vibe Tuscan murals and boisterous good times.
Imbibe Stuzzichini and prosecco.
15. Richmond Club Hotel 100 Swan Street, Richmond, 9428 6722.
Vibe Cantilevered private booths make this one of the smartest rooftops around.
Imbibe Wagyu burger and Mountain Goat.
16. Corner Hotel 57 Swan Street, Richmond, 9427 9198.
Vibe Great indoor-outdoor design against a gritty urban backdrop.
Imbibe Panko-crumbed prawns and Clare Valley riesling.
17. Railway Hotel 29 Chapel Street, Windsor, 9510 4050.
Vibe Sleek and spacious, perfect for the glam young south-of-the-river crowd.
Imbibe Chicken burger and draught cider.
18. Palmz at the Carlton 193 Bourke Street, city, 9663 3246.
Vibe Tropical island resort.
Imbibe Soba noodle salad and pinot grigio.