167 Franklin St Melbourne, VIC 3000
|Opening hours||Mon-Thu 4pm-1am, Fri-Sun noon-1am|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Vegetarian friendly, Groups, Late night|
It's a great entrance. It starts with a graffitied door in the rabbit warren "food precinct" at the bottom of the Fulton Lane apartment building (hint: look for the red light).
The door opens onto a fluoro-lit barebones stairwell. Up the stairs is a door with a faulty closing mechanism that means it will slam loudly behind you, though the slam is mostly lost beneath the blast of Queens of the Stone Age or Nirvana from powerful speakers.
The cavernous room is so dimly lit you'll be temporarily unable to see anything but the distant glow of the open kitchen and bar, where the words "F--k Mary's" are spelt out in red tiles. It's sensory deprivation and sensory overload all at the same time. You can sense trouble ahead, in all the best ways.
Mary's Melbourne is the first non-Sydney outpost of an empire built on a foundation of burgers and natural wine by pals Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham. The space has a definite Sydney vibe to it: a grungy, dark, rock and roll, anything goes party pit is something our northern brethren do particularly well and it's a welcome addition to Melbourne's bar diversity.
It's a large space spread over several levels, including a mezzanine. Lists of beer, cocktails, food and wine by the glass are scrawled in chalk on the walls and there's a slight gothic bent courtesy of a gigantic iron chandelier and candles on the timber tables and massed together around the room.
This is a house that burger built and the burgers don't disappoint. Purists will be happy with the Mary's regular or cheeseburger, which combine the ease of handling of a chain burger with blasts of flavour and texture that anaemic, mass-produced members of the species would like to be when they grow up.
There are mushroom and chicken burgers, too, plus fried chicken that satisfyingly nails crunch and juiciness. Order some mash and gravy and you'll be well pleased with yourself.
Mary's booze matches the quality of the food. There are suitably hefty cocktails that are both well-made and fun to drink. There's an argument to be made for awarding the Bloody Mary capped with a slice of semi-melted cheese, crisp bacon and a pickled onion a place in the National Archives.
In a modern burger joint, it's not surprising to see craft brews such as Young Henrys, Moon Dog and 4 Pines but it's the wine list that's impressive.
It's a well-priced, intelligent assembly of natural and biodynamic wine that offers a succinct overview of the span of minimal-intervention wine from super funky to super clean. There's a decent selection by the glass (William Downie pinot noir, Latta Jurassique chardonnay) but gather a few friends and do some wine exploration while chowing down on the burgers.
There's much to like at Mary's, including excellent service from a relaxed, informed team. Those with sensitive ears may find it a challenge but the quality of the burgers and the booze will help you get over that every time.
Martini meter n/a
Not the place for it – adjust focus and order a Bloody Mary with bacon and cheese instead.
Go-to bar snack
Unless you're vegan (and there's a menu for you too so don't pout), a cheeseburger – fatty, salty and juicy in all the right places, $19.