Ponies, peonies and parklet parties: Where to celebrate Cup Day in Melbourne away from the track

The spring carnival installation at Matilda restauarnt where 2000 flowers are being guarded by security guard day and night.
The spring carnival installation at Matilda restauarnt where 2000 flowers are being guarded by security guard day and night. Photo: Eddie Jim

This spring racing carnival, the magnetic pull of Flemington has been flipped into a current of fun that's lighting up the city as venues install bookies with white satchels and hire ponies to recreate the theatre of race day.

Due to current restrictions on events in Victoria, Flemington Racecourse is allowed to host 10,000 masked-up attendees at the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday, with the same number approved for Oaks Day two days later. But with only 500 tickets reserved for the general public at Flemington on Cup Day, the trackside spectacle is coming to the people.

"When the Birdcage had to change a bit, we knew off-course was going to be important," says Bruce Keebaugh, co-founder of events and catering company Big Group, which has been part of Flemington's spring racing carnival for more than 20 years.

Fargo in Richmond is doing bottomless brunch and prizes for best dressed on Cup Day.
Fargo in Richmond is doing bottomless brunch and prizes for best dressed on Cup Day. Photo: Supplied

Big Group's St Kilda Road venue, The Commons, is throwing two parties in its outdoor spaces, with 500 tickets selling at pace.

The Rosé Garden promises a playground of can-can dancers, peonies and champagne showers while a pony with braids will be led around for punters to feed apples to.

Meanwhile, picnic tables in the beer garden will be crowded with plates of chicken and mayonnaise sandwiches, slow-cooked lamb shoulder and, later in the afternoon, party pies and sausage rolls. A bookie will be there to take bets.

The Commons will create the theatre of being trackside with Champagne showers, ponies, flowers and old-school bookies.
The Commons will create the theatre of being trackside with Champagne showers, ponies, flowers and old-school bookies. Photo: Marcel Aucar

Keebaugh wants both parties to be just as glamorous as a day at the track. "You can only come if you're vaxxed, waxed and dressed to the max," he jokes.

Nearby on Domain Road, passersby have been treated to an explosion of foxgloves, delphiniums and sweet peas after an installation of 2000 flowers was unveiled in the outdoor dining parklet of Matilda restaurant on Friday.

"We can't all get to the races this year, so we're bringing a bit of the spring racing glamour to our parklet," says Matlida chef Scott Pickett.

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There are so many flowers, Pickett has hired a security guard to watch over them day and night.

Designers Anthology created the arrangement with North Street Botanics, including spending five days hand-threading dried citrus fruit to create "chandeliers" for the installation.

Throughout this week, tables out the front of Matilda will be available for guests to have champagne, southern rock oysters and spring-inspired spritzes.

The Commons has a beer garden and rosé garden offering two distinct experiences for different types of racegoers.
The Commons has a beer garden and rosé garden offering two distinct experiences for different types of racegoers. Photo: Marcel Aucar

Next door, the Botanical Hotel is dialling up the glamour for Cup Day too, hosting its own take on Flemington's Birdcage, with a media wall and photographers, eye-catching flowers and five hours of canapes, cocktails and Bollinger fizz.

This year, at least, Flemington is not the only game in town.

Where to be seen off-track on Cup Day

Botanical Hotel, South Yarra

With party photographers, mini dagwood dogs and spanner crab blinis, this could be the party to be at when you can't be at the track. Tickets $300. botanicalhotel.com.au

The Commons at Ormond Collective, Melbourne

Choose between a beer garden with bookies or a garden party with a pony for this extravagant off-course celebration by party professionals The Big Group. Tickets from $180 for Cup Day or Oaks Day. thecommonscollective.com.au

Fargo, Richmond

Bottomless brunch kicks off at 11am with mimosas and pina colada waffles. Be sure to put your best fascinator forward – there are best dressed prizes to be won. Tickets $55. fargoandco.com.au

Matilda 159 Domain, South Yarra

Stroll up to the foxglove-framed tables on Domain Road between 3pm and 5pm each day of the carnival for champagne and oyster specials. Or start the day with blooms, bubbles and a big breakfast from the new brunch menu. Walk-ins only outdoors. matilda159.com

The Mighty Moonee, Moonee Ponds

As close to trackside as many of us can get this year, this schmick pub is doing Cup Day specials on espresso martinis and jugs of Jetty Road beer, along with the full menu from 12pm. Bookings recommended. mightycraft.com.au

The Park, Werribee

Make it a merry Monday night and join the Cup Eve party featuring DJs, sangria specials and a solid mix of pub fare and good snacking. No entry fee but bookings recommended. theparkwerribee.com.au

The Railway Hotel, South Melbourne

It's all about the sweeps and choosing a spot with a great view of the TV at this easygoing boozer, which shouldn't be a problem with seven screens. A full menu of fish and chips, steak sangas and more is available. Bookings recommended. railwaypub.com.au

All details correct at time of publication.