234A Russell St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 5pm-3am; Sun 5pm-11pm|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
Anybody with the good fortune to have spent a few hours in Sydney bar Frankie's Pizza (and if you haven't, you should make a point of it when next visiting our northern pal – you can thank me later) will testify that it's a bar that knows how to have a good time. Melburnians emerging dishevelled from its loud and trashy depths will inevitably whine about not having a bar like that in their hometown, especially because, as everybody knows, Melbourne invented bars. But the whinging can now stop because Heartbreaker has ridden to the rescue.
A collaboration between Michael Madrusan (The Everleigh) and Sebastian Raeburn (ex-1806), Heartbreaker has taken over the former Mai Tai, a tiki bar opposite Stalactites in the city. The dusty tropicana has been replaced by an American dive bar aesthetic that runs to red neon, black vinyl booths and a padded black vinyl armrest on the bar, a pool table and a quite brilliant jukebox stacked with a selection of music that dates from 1968 (presumably so early Hendrix could be included in the mix) through to 1980. Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Blondie, Television, Iggy Pop, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart and Lou Reed are among your spirit guides for the evening. Things can only go well.
Given the calibre of the owners, it's not surprising that Heartbreaker's dive-bar credentials stop short of industrially produced beer and entry-level spirits, and will also severely disappoint anybody needing an espresso martini to get the party started. Admittedly, there's not much in the way of a wine list (one sparkling, one red, one white, all Spanish) and the toilets can live up to the dive-bar creed but the quality of the booze generally, especially in terms of whisky and beer, means Heartbreaker makes it possible to both get a little messy and keep yourself nice, in terms of labels at least.
Cocktail-wise, you're limited to four classics, batch brewed and bottled to Madrusan and Raeburn's discerning standards (the drinks are stylishly packaged under the name The Everleigh Bottling Co and are available to take away until 11pm each night). There's a negroni, a martini, an old fashioned and a Manhattan that are kept chilled so they can be presented quickly in correct glassware with appropriate garnishes (you can choose between an olive or a twist for the martini but otherwise it's all standardised).
All the cocktails stand up reasonably well to the bottling process with the martini (clean and dry without being silly about it) and the old fashioned (perfectly judged amount of bitters) emerging as the sharpest in the squad. Add excellent ice from Madrusan's Navy Strength Ice Co – filtered, dense, slow melting, perfectly clear – and you have yourself a very good drink.
Whisky drinkers will be pretty happy with the page-long selection of about 60 labels sectioned into American, bourbon, rye, scotch, Japanese and Irish groupings and there's a similarly sharp and joyful selection of beer, with a changing roster of seven tap beers (and one cider) and a page of bottled craft beers from near and far (New Zealand's Garage Project's Pale Ale "Death from Above", Stone Smoked Porter from California).
There's no food other than pretzels at Heartbreaker at present but the kitchen is mooted to begin operating (under the guidance of a Watch This Space-calibre chef) from the second week of October, offering cutlery-free snacks until the small hours.
Heartbreaker is not going to appeal to everybody (no espresso martinis, remember) but for anybody who's had fun in an old-school American bar, who likes to stay up late, irresponsibly feeding gold coins into jukeboxes and pool tables, getting a little rowdy and drinking a little more than the prescribed dose, it's going to feel like a second home. You have been warned.
Drink this Hand-bottled cocktails
Eat this Pretzels (the only food available until the kitchen opens in the second week of October)
Check this The jukebox contains music from 1968-1980 only.