Maybe it's our fickle weather and the siren call of vitamin D on sunny days, but Melburnians love a drink outdoors. Luckily we're a city blessed with many excellent beer gardens, courtyards and rooftops; uncluttered spaces that are a world away from sterile offices and cramped trains.
We're talking real trees and plants. Comfortable seats. Grass (real or fake). Perhaps a barbecue. A decent range of cold, fresh beer, wine and bubbly. Oh, and cocktails. Strong ones.
A perennial favourite is The Retreat in Brunswick. "The secret to our success is providing a space that we would like to drink in," says Clint Fisher, the Sydney Road pub's owner.
Fisher says he's observed some recent changes in the outdoor-drinking landscape. "When we first opened 12 years ago, there weren't too many big beer gardens about. Everyone said we were mad to put so much emphasis on an outdoor area in Melbourne. Then the smoking laws came in and bam: everyone started to work on their own outdoor area. We were lucky to get in early and it really hasn't stopped."
Matt Vero, owner of Fitzroy rooftop bar Marquis of Lorne, agrees that versatility is a must for modern-day pubs. "People want something more from their drinking experience – and incorporating nice weather, fresh air and good views makes for a more exciting experience," he says.
So it's time to don your straw hats, floral shirts and dresses and begin working your way through this selection of Melbourne's best outdoor drinking spots while the warm weather lasts. Cheers!
Sister bar to the ever-popular Riverland, Boatbuilders Yard's time in the sun is still to come as its surrounds grow. The 1000-plus-capacity venue has Six Degrees' fingerprints all over it, utilising recycled timber and steel to bring to life a historic shed adjacent to Polly Woodside. The open-plan decking stretches out onto the Yarra, offering panoramic views of the city, its spread of deckchairs and wooden tables lending themselves to cold drinks, sunny afternoons and softly lit nights.
23 South Wharf Promenade, South Wharf, 9686 5088, theboatbuildersyard.com.au
CAPTAIN BAXTER AND REPUBLICA
You can taste the sea salt on Republica's impressive beachfront terrace, but there's no white-tablecloth elitism here, nor by-the-numbers tackiness. You'd be hard pressed to find a better spot to bring beach-and-booze-loving visitors. Linger over seafood or pizza, perhaps with a pitcher of Pimms or Sangria, before hitting Captain Baxter's rooftop bar to watch the sun descend over Port Phillip Bay.
St Kilda Sea Baths, 10/18 Jacka Boulevard, 8534 8999 (Captain Baxter); 8598 9055 (Republica); captainbaxter.com.au; republica.net.au
ARBORY BAR AND EATERY
By far the sexiest part of Flinders Street Station, Arbory is a 120-metre river-facing space that uses the disused Sandridge line terminus to stunning effect. Two bars operate out of illuminated shipping containers, offering a decent selection of bubbly and wine (including the popular Arbory shiraz from Heathcote on tap) and a dozen craft beer taps. Really, really peeved at your delayed or cancelled train? Go all out with a Nitro Espresso Martini.
Flinders Walk, Melbourne, 8648 7644, arbory.com.au
DOYLES BRIDGE HOTEL
For an all-round pub experience this popular, unobtrusive bayside pub is well worth the trek down the Nepean. While boasting a sports bar, function room, a seafood-leaning menu and some decent local wines, its undoubted ace of spades is the balcony overlooking Mordialloc Creek. You're on easy street as the flotilla of vintage timber boats gently bob in the water. And later, when the sun goes down, there's a sense of romance to the place.
1 Nepean Highway, Mordialloc, 8587 1000, doylesbridgehotel.com.au
Patrons can play bocce at Pallino Bar in Thornbury. Photo: Jason South
THE BRIDGE HOTEL
Local architects Techne transformed this no-frills boozer into the most dynamic watering hole in the Sand Hill Road cache: an eclectic, indoor-outdoor palace that proves you can successfully throw the kitchen sink at a project. The centrepiece is the European-style bluestone laneway that runs straight through the pub's innards, attracting the sun's rays and a willing crowd most weekends. Despite the fanfare, the central pitch remains "traditional pub", with the Carlton Draught-parma combo still the go-to option.
642 Bridge Road, Richmond, 9429 5734, thebridgehotel.com.au
It was as if hospitality magnate Jerome Borazio, a string of laneway and rooftop bars behind him, had needed a new challenge. Answer: fashion a "floating" bar out of a barge beneath arguably the city's most trodden-on footbridge. Ponyfish Island, accessible via a single stairwell, peaks on Friday nights, when a cross-section of suits, inner-city dwellers and tourists test the joint's cramped aesthetic. For a more leisurely time of it, pull up a wooden crate and order a jam-jar cocktail during the week.
Flinders Street Pedestrian Bridge, Southbank, ponyfish.com.au
Backyard cricket aside, is there a better sport to play while drinking than bocce? The game once enjoyed by the ancient Romans is simple, suits all shapes and sizes, and, best of all, can be played with one arm. Pallino's AstroTurf bocce pitch is the centrepiece of its courtyard, springing to life on weekends when friendly competitions take place. Inside there's a lovely marbled main bar where classic cocktails (including a mean Negroni), charcuterie boards and craft beers are drummed up.
790 High Street, Thornbury, 9484 7968, pallino.com.au
TRUNK BAR AND RESTAURANT
Trunk is a lesson in smartly using space. The after-work hotspot – which, during a 160-year-history, has served as a synagogue, school and Italian restaurant – boasts a striking, high-ceilinged main bar, an outhouse-diner and, best of all, a sizeable, greenery-laden beer garden. There's also a laneway effect to the place that, when the sun goes down and the hand-strung lights flick on, adds to the party atmosphere. The place is a box-ticker; a trendy "getaway" smack bang in the CBD.
275 Exhibition Street, Melbourne, 9663 7994, trunktown.com.au
Le Bon Ton restaurant in Collingwood.
CHARLES AND GAMON
The venue formerly known as Sabroso presents as an English village garden in the heart of Seddon. The industrial bar and dining area have appeal, but the tree-shrouded, family-friendly beer garden – bordered by a vintage cottage fence – serves as the venue's drawcard. The drinks list – seasonal cocktails, rotating beers, by-the-glass wines – is tight but adequate for the setting. Pair a Mornington Lager and some devilled wings and see life's possibilities open up.
2 Gamon Street, Seddon, 9689 0203, charlesandgamon.com.au
LE BON TON
A nod to the Big Easy, this New Orleans-style bar and eatery pretty much nails it on every count: the pristine, copper-hued bar and oyster saloon; a vast assembly of on-theme and on-trend booze; southern smokiness all around. But beyond all that there's the spacious, fairy-light-speckled beer garden that, when aided by good company and the party-in-the-mouth pairing of pit-smoked meat and chilli fries – doused by, perhaps, a Hurricane cocktail or American ale – outplays its many neighbourhood rivals come evening.
51 Gipps St, Collingwood, 9416 4341, lebonton.com.au
Don't judge the Royal Saxon on its vintage whitewash facade; beyond that is a succinct, sexy and oh-so-sociable gastropub. Its courtyard – with wall-hugging greenery and a Port Jackson fig as centrepiece – snakes around the ambient dining area and main bar, which is breezy enough itself on warm nights when the windows are thrown open and light jazz plays second fiddle to the inside-outside clash of conversation. Beer-wise, the bar's 10 taps mingle the usual suspects with industry darlings Boatrocker and Quiet Deeds.
545 Church St, Richmond, 9429 5277, royalsaxon.com
Howler, a watering hole and entertainment space fashioned out of a warehouse off Sydney Road, aims for the stars – and nearly gets there. While architectural fiends gush at the atrium-style beer garden's mix of natural light and modern-industrial sculptures, beer nerds will have conniptions over the seriously-on-trend brew list. A favourite local band or artist might have brought you here, but the sum of Howler's many parts will have you lingering on the tree-trunk benches long afterwards.
7-11 Dawson St, Brunswick, 9077 5572, h-w-l-r.com
Despite calling Federation Square home, Beer DeLuxe's whistle-wetting charms seem to have evaded much of mainstream Melbourne, chiefly attracting tourists and beer aficionados (last year's Good Beer Week hub houses a glossary of international rarities). The stylish, timber-and-brass beer garden and burger bar is a bonus for city dwellers, then – perhaps to check out while the silly season keeps the humdrum of regular life at bay. Who knows, you might just find yourself relaxing in the city.
Federation Square, Flinders Street, Melbourne, 9663 0166, beerdeluxe.com.au
Fitzroy's Naked in the Sky at twilight. Photo: Amanda Fordyce
MARQUIS OF LORNE
This faithfully restored Fitzroy favourite has relaunched to acclaim. While the bottom two levels – the traditional main bar and open-fire dining room – attract boozers and foodies across the seasons, it's the soon-to-be-expanded rooftop terrace that adds another dimension come summer. Ice-coated stubbies and tins (Foster's cans, $5) nestle with bottles of bubbly and white in a clawfoot tub; steaks and burgers bring sustenance; while an old CUB sign, trellis fence and hand-strung lights complete the ultra-relaxed setting.
411 George Street, Fitzroy, 9417 5001, marquisoflorne.com.au
Perched above Melbourne Supper Club, this Parisian-feel rooftop overlooks Spring Street and Parliament House. Indeed, your crew may canvass decisions made beyond the legislative walls as attentive waiters bring Old World wines, cocktails or even a post-caviar cigar to your white-clothed table or wooden bench. It's not as casual as some, but everyone deserves occasional indulgence. Perfect, perhaps, for that deal-making third or fourth date. And be sure to try the polenta chips.
2/161 Spring Street, Melbourne, 9654 6300
Although Goldilocks made her name by helping herself to what wasn't hers, she still liked things just right. She would've liked this place, then, had her fake ID washed. Exhilarating city views in an intimate setting await once you've navigated the lift from Noodle Kingdom and the fairytale-themed stairwell. Wallet-friendly snacks include the "3 Little Pigs sliders", while the cocktail list rotates through a half dozen kooky classics.
4/264 Swanston Street, Melbourne, goldilocksbar.com.au
NAKED IN THE SKY
This rustic, subtly Old World extension of the glamorous Naked for Satan bar takes you – via a rumbling lift shaft – into Fitzroy's rooftops, where panoramic views include the city, Brunswick Street and, in the distance, the Dandenong Ranges. Smirk at the miniaturised hipsters below as you enjoy the spread of salty, garlicky pintxos, in-house infused vodkas and Spanish wines. The joint is popular, especially on balmy evenings, so get in early to snare one of the colourful tables.
285 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 9416 2238, nakedforsatan.com.au
Somewhat of a pioneer for Melbourne rooftop bars, Madame Brussels continues attracting barflies wanting something a bit different (personalised garden parties are $48 per head) and repeat visitors seeking another sun-soaked afternoon of boozy cocktails and sugary cupcakes. Overlooking the city's east end, this buzzy, AstroTurf wonderland is replete with lattice, pastel chairs and chaise lounges – and staff in skimpy tennis whites. And if the weather turns bad there's always the hedged indoor bar.
59 Bourke St, Melbourne, 9662 2775, madamebrussels.com
The Retreat is the quintessential Melbourne pub: defiant, with cold beer, colourful cats and a sprawling beer garden.
280 Sydney Road, Brunswick, 9380 4090, retreathotelbrunswick.com.au
This old-school pub's resort-feel courtyard, with thatched roofs and speckled greenery, trumps its namesakes in Melbourne. Go easy.
280 Ferrars Street, South Melbourne, 9690 5092, railwaypub.com.au
The resurrection of this Victorian-era local reflects the suburb's changing face. It's a classy gastropub with a homely beer garden that locals have embraced in spades.
62 Hudsons Road, Spotswood, 9391 1330, spottiswoode.com.au
THE COLLEGE LAWN
Tucked away off Chapel Street, This is a sports-watching haven, especially from its lush, 200-capacity beer garden and outdoor bar.
36 Greville Street, Prahran, 9810 0074, collegelawnhotel.com.au
THE REVERENCE HOTEL
Live music, "$3 Taco and Tecate Tuesdays" and a grungy, pot-plant-laden beer garden make it the perfect antidote for life's stresses.
28 Napier Street, Footscray, 9687 2111, reverencehotel.com
Port Melbourne has several hidden gems, none better than this 19th-century pub. Its beer garden has long communal tables, a retractable roof and sports-tuned TVs.
69 Cruikshank Street, Port Melbourne, 9646 3306, thecricketersarms.com.au
Pipping its Brunswick sister for Melbourne's best Irish beer garden, Bridie's buzzing outdoor area allows drinkers to observe Chapel Street's prancers and tram-track dancers.
462 Chapel Street, SouthYarra, 9827 7108, chapelst.bridieoreillys.com.au
The archetypal footy pub. Cosy nooks lend themselves to winter, while the expansive courtyard, with its long wooden tables, is the place to be before and after trips to the 'G.
238 Lennox Street, Richmond, 9428 6894, thelondon.net.au
This low-lit, roughly walled pub on the site of a former church has decent pub fare, old-time cocktails and a leafy, many-hued courtyard of considerable character.
250 High Street, Northcote, 9482 1333, wesleyanne.com.au
This is a second home for the many who love the relaxed, trend-averting atmosphere, live music, hefty meals and back-street location. Go for a Melbourne Bitter from the tap in the communal beer garden.
293 Fitzroy Street, Fitzroy, 9419 4793, thestandardhotel.com.au
THE BRUNSWICK GREEN
This evergreen pub offers the sort of coolly discordant interior that even High Fidelity's Barry would appreciate, and a large, leafy beer garden with long wooden tables.
313 Sydney Road, Brunswick, 9381 2413
GREAT NORTHERN HOTEL
An urban oasis of polished new rooms and spruced-up old ones, a huge beer deck and an outdoor bar with than 20 beers on tap and a theatre-sized screen, it's the complete pub.
644 Rathdowne Street, Carlton North, 9380 9569, gnh.net.au