Life at the top: 10 of Melbourne's best rooftop bars 2020

Richmond's Great Britain Hotel has reopened as Harlow, with great views of city.
Richmond's Great Britain Hotel has reopened as Harlow, with great views of city. Photo: Supplied

 

Remember when rooftops became de rigueur in Melbourne? It happened in 2007, after smoking was banned indoors and venues began looking for ways to keep everyone happy. Fast-forward to summer 2020 and once again it's all about the great outdoors and Melbourne's in the midst of a rooftop revival. Here are 10 of our favourites, and two more to come.

The Prince Hotel Beer Garden

Grilled garlic flat bread, whipped ricotta, smoked olive oil and bottarga at the Hobsons Bay Hotel.
Grilled garlic flat bread, whipped ricotta, smoked olive oil and bottarga at the Hobsons Bay Hotel. Photo: Kate Shanasy

St Kilda stalwart The Prince Hotel had to get innovative to keep punters COVID-safe, so turned the top floor of its carpark into an open-air beer garden. It's a short-term collab with Brick Lane Brewing, Nagambie Brewery & Distillery – hello, gin cocktails – and Preece Wines, intended to make the most of the sparkling weather. Best bits? No bookings required (open Thursday-Sunday), and deep-pan pizza to soak up the beer.

Why we love it: Lots of St Kilda's no-frills drinking venues have been vanquished, so it's great to welcome one for a change.

2 Acland Street, St Kilda, theprince.com.au

Nineteenforty, atop Camberwell's Rivoli Cinema.
Nineteenforty, atop Camberwell's Rivoli Cinema. Photo: Supplied

Secret Garden Bar

Behind the Rooftop at QT there's a sweet kitchen garden, full of herbs and other tasty delights that make their way onto dishes and drinks at Pascale Bar & Grill. Normally a chefs-only zone, it's ready for some summer lovin' during this partnership between the hotel and distillers Four Pillars Gin. New varieties such as Olive Leaf Gin are getting a run in a Spanish-style gin and tonic with a rosemary garnish straight from the garden. As a bonus, there'll also be masterclasses and guided tastings.

Why we love it: Just 40 people at a time get to drink in the sparkling views at this sky-high oasis.

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133 Russell Street, qthotels.com/melbourne

Harlow

After we bade farewell to Richmond's Great Britain Hotel in 2018, it was given a massive spit and polish and reopened as Harlow. Now, the sprawling venue has added another feather to its cap: a rooftop space. With great views of the city, tables beneath umbrellas and others in the sunshine, and big screens for cricket watching, it just might be your next favourite summer sundowner spot. Hit us with a Rockstar (melon-infused tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and watermelon simple syrup with a chilli salt rim) and the sticky fried chicken burger.

Mr Brownie, South Melbourne, offers loads of spicy snacks including butter chicken pies.
Mr Brownie, South Melbourne, offers loads of spicy snacks including butter chicken pies. Photo: Supplied

Why we love it: After a long, hard day watching the Test at the MCG, this is a great spot to spy the setting sun.

447 Church Street, Richmond, harlowbar.com.au

Railway Hotel

Most of the cocktails at Mr Brownie, South Melbourne, are classics-with-a-twist.
Most of the cocktails at Mr Brownie, South Melbourne, are classics-with-a-twist. Photo: Supplied

Once you head into the inner west, rooftop bars become a little harder to find. Lucky there's the upstairs, open-air area of this art deco local. The relaxed, modern space up top has a retractable roof and an outlook over the village. Of course, there's icy beer on tap and in the fridge and a decent wine selection, but also a range of classic cocktails, should you feel like getting fancy. When it comes to food, it's all shared plates, burgers and pizza.

Why we love it: Sometimes you just want to have a quiet one with your pals away from the city crowds.

35 Anderson Street, Yarraville, railwayhoteyarraville.com.au

Chicken chilindron, gem lettuce salad and patatas bravas at Bomba Rooftop.
Chicken chilindron, gem lettuce salad and patatas bravas at Bomba Rooftop. Photo: Jana Langhorst

Johnny's Green Room

Way back in the '60s and '70s, if you lived anywhere near Carlton you would have played pool and eaten cheap Italian food at the original Johnny's. This is a completely different vibe, more akin to an urban beach club, with benches made from recycled peach terrazzo, marble-topped tables and all-round views of the city and neighbourhood. About the only thing that hasn't changed is the Italian influence, which stretches across both the menu and drinks list. Limoncello highball, anyone?

Why we love it: If you're trying to impress a new paramour after a session at Cinema Nova, those views of the city skyline are hard to beat.

Antoine Reymond of Frederic in the Sky in Cremorne.
Antoine Reymond of Frederic in the Sky in Cremorne. Photo: Justin McManus

293-297 Lygon Street, Carlton, johnnysgreenroom.com

Nineteenforty

The name alludes to the art deco building it sits atop, which also happens to house Camberwell's Rivoli Cinema. Not that you have to be heading to the flicks to get your kicks here. Framed by the building's brick facade, the cinema's sign and the shopping strip of Camberwell Road, the bar's pops of sunny yellow make it feel as though you've stumbled across a garden party. One with cocktails and grazing platters.

Grilled asparagus at Frederic in the Sky in Cremorne.
Grilled asparagus at Frederic in the Sky in Cremorne. Photo: Justin McManus

Why we love it: Eastern suburbs represent. This is a hidden gem for sunset sessions.

200 Camberwell Road, Hawthorn East, villagecinemas.com.au

Frederic in the Sky

Flatbreads, tarama and salsa verde at Frederic in the Sky in Cremorne.
Flatbreads, tarama and salsa verde at Frederic in the Sky in Cremorne. Photo: Justin McManus

The Reymond siblings, Edouard, Antoine and Nathalie, are part of Melbourne hospo royalty and in spring 2019 they opened Frederic Bistro, serving up classic European fare. We all know what happened next, so to bring more diners to the venue during restrictions, they got permission from the landlord to head onto the building's rooftop, seven floors up. It's a little bit makeshift – portable bar, barbecue, some dishes brought up from the kitchen below – but the views of the MCG and city more than make up for it.

Why we love it: The set $100 tasting menu, with dishes such as grilled asparagus with cheese custard and glazed boneless chicken cooked over charcoal, is a massive step up from most rooftop venues.

9-11 Cremorne Street, Cremorne, frederic.com.au

The Prince Rooftop Beer Garden, St Kilda.
The Prince Rooftop Beer Garden, St Kilda. Photo: Supplied

Mr Brownie

A long list of venues opened just before the pandemic hit, and Jessi Singh's South Melbourne curry pub was one of them. Head upstairs and grab a red-top stool at a table surrounded by lush potted palms and sparkling views. There are plenty of cocktails from which to choose – most of them twists on the classics – as well as jugs of sangria and loads of spicy snacks, including jalapeno poppers, lobster rolls and butter chicken pies.

Why we love it: The $49 bottomless brunch, with unlimited booze and curry sausage sizzle, is a great way to kick off a weekend.

Johnny's Green Room, on the rooftop of King and Godfree in Carlton.
Johnny's Green Room, on the rooftop of King and Godfree in Carlton. Photo: Anne Moffat

343 Clarendon Street, South Melbourne, themrbrownie.com

Bomba Rooftop

This touch of Spain overlooking the plane trees of Lonsdale Street has long been a fave for post-work vinos, but for the moment there's rock-solid dining up here, too. The biggest decision you have to make – and it's best done over a Bomba Bellini (pear, chamomile, lemon thyme and cava) – is whether to crack on with the $55 set menu or the $75 version.

Why we love it: It's the perfect combination of Jesse Gerner's Spanish dishes from downstairs and the rooftop ambience.

103 Lonsdale Street, bombabar.com.au

Siglo

If you've never spent the early hours of the morning sitting here imagining you're in a European capital – thanks to a combination of the looming Princess Theatre mural, a fully lit Parliament House across the road and potent liquor – you haven't lived. Set atop the legendary Melbourne Supper Club, this wicker-strewn rooftop is the sort of place where you'll strike up a conversation with a costume designer while perusing the humidor. You can get whatever you like here, but it's a great spot for nightcapping with cognac and cigars.

Why we love it: No one looks at you oddly if you order a plate of sausage rolls at 2am.

161 Spring Street, siglobar.com.au

On our radar 

The tastes of Peru straight from the parrilla and charcoal oven are on the menu at chef Daniel Salcedo's new Sol and Luna, which opened mid-December at the top of PM Port Melbourne.

The 100-year-old Hobson Bay Hotel in Williamstown, which opened in early December, has views of the Melbourne's skyline across the water. The food looks promising too: Ben Pigott (ex Supernormal and Stokehouse) will be on the pans.

You won't need to head to Gippsland to get a taste of its produce or its sense of peace, when chef Alejandro Saravia launches Farmer's Daughters (farmersdaughters.com.au), complete with rooftop bar, at the chi-chi 80 Collins development in early 2021.