Melbourne's bars and restaurants are taking to the streets, as well as car parks, laneways, and rooftops, with a rise in temporary outdoor dining set to jump-start the hospitality industry.
COVID-19 restrictions now allow up to 70 patrons to dine outside, spaced at one person every two square metres, with tables at least 1.5 metres apart. The changing rules have caused many venues to think creatively about how to increase numbers.
After months of closure and surviving on providing home delivery, Cremorne restaurant Frederic is pumping again, with new seating in car parking spaces in front of the venue lifting outdoor capacity from three tables to eight.
Owners Antoine, Nathalie and Edouard Reymond looked to the sky for an extra boost, negotiating with the landlord, Cobild, to use the building's ninth-floor rooftop and barbecue area for weekend lunch sessions.
"It's not part of our lease, but the owners kindly said yes," says Antoine Reymond. "They were very supportive of us trying to make up for a bit of lost ground. It has been challenging to build another restaurant with just a barbecue, but it's a really good vibe and has one of the best views in Melbourne."
The City of Melbourne has issued more than 1000 permits to increase restaurant capacities, creating a standardised "parklet'' installation with uniform bollards, planters and barriers which have already been installed across 74 locations in the CBD.
"It's great to see outdoor spaces bringing Melbourne's foodie culture out into the sunshine," says Lord Mayor Sally Capp. "This is allowing restaurants and cafes to welcome more diners, which means more money going through cash registers of local businesses."
Cocktail bar Gin Palace and Italian diner Marameo initially pitched to take over the whole of Russell Place outside their neighbouring venues, but struck a deal with the council to take over an adjoining carpark. A night-market style offering is launching later this week with skewers and spritz for up to 50 patrons.
"Currently we're only allowed to open outside until 10pm from Sunday to Thursday and 11pm on Friday and Saturday, but we'll take what we can get," says Gin Palace co-owner Ben Luzz. "You can feel the excitement in the city, it's palpable. Everyone just wants to get out and spend money, have drinks and get back to Melbourne hospitality."
Southbank is another precinct increasing its outdoor dining footprint, with developer Mirvac building flexible modular pop-ups at Riverside Quay to expand venues including Left Bank, Hopscotch, Ludlow, Soho, and Breslin, while Crown has opened a new al fresco sports bar, Petanque Social.
Five more of Melbourne's best places to eat outdoors
Sarafian's Sunday Saracen Sessions
Middle Eastern favourite Rumi in East Brunswick has two new outdoor dining zones in a neighbouring mechanic's car yard, with undercover dining and a no-bookings beer garden for up to 60 people. Bar Saracen chef Tom Sarafian takes over at 12pm, 3pm and 6pm every weekend through summer, with a $50 set mezze menu plus DJs, guest chefs and Brick Lane Brewery beers. rumirestaurant.com.au
Two Birds Brewing
Feel like a cold pot? Hobsons Bay council stepped in to construct a 30-metre wooden deck for 45 extra punters at this Spotswood brewery known for quirky beer flavours such as taco, lemon meringue and passionfruit. They've dressed it up with plants and festoon lighting to get the party started. "We can only have 30 people inside so without it, we would not have been trading," says co-owner Jayne Lewis. twobirdsbrewing.com.au
Park Street Pasta & Wine
Vive la parklet! This South Melbourne pasta bar has built a timber deck fringed with lush planter boxes over four car parks for an extra 28 diners, covered with a marquee to combat unpredictable weather. (In Melbourne? Never.) First up, check out the new Carnevale di Spritz menu with chinotto, elderflower and limoncello aperitifs to smash with crisp sardines or vongole. parkstreetpasta.com.au
Fitzroy's tiny hole-in-the-wall Japanese cafe, Calere, now has more seating than ever, with three new tables on Gertrude Street to enjoy tonkatsu sandos and savoury waffles. Restaurateur Andrew McConnell has also increased your chances to win on the strip, with seating for 50 people outside both The Builders Arms and Marion Wine Bar, and more tables to come when restrictions allow. calerecoffee.square.site
This Northcote wine bar is normally only open at night, but has started doing Sunday brunch to make the most of its newly transformed rear laneway. After a seven-week negotiation with Darebin council, the good-times are rolling with a deck and marquee area for 20 punters. The menu changes daily, but expect house made crab crumpets, ploughman's muffins and vegan-friendly fare. ohloretta.com.au