29 Fitzroy St St Kilda, VIC 3182
|Opening hours||Daily 7am-late|
|Features||Outdoor seating, Licensed, Bar|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9536 1111|
Just 12 months since one St Kilda icon was given a big-budget makeover, along comes the freshly renovated Prince Public Bar and fans of the neighbourhood's much-loved dives have had to hold their collective breath again. Will the seedy charms of the original be destroyed forever? Will another part of bohemian Melbourne be Blockified?
The good news is that while the Prince Public Bar has been sanitised and moved upmarket (there's a $75 steak on the menu, oysters as bar snacks and Nikka whisky on the shelves), it still has the moves of a legitimate pub – less St Kilda theme park, more genuine watering hole.
And the legendary outdoor area is intact.
It seems like the brief given to designer Iva Foschia (Etta, Attica, Cutler & Co) was "let there be light". The place is flooded with the stuff, helped along by the soft white walls and beautifully restored deco-era ceiling. The massive central oval bar is all blond wood, as are the banquettes with their tweed-like upholstery. The floor is pastel-coloured tiles. And a couple of walls have been removed to make the kitchen part of the room.
It's a clever design job, successfully channelling and modernising the old-school pub. Noise levels inside can get rowdy but seriously, if you're noise-averse, don't come to a large, tiled public bar on Fitzroy Street.
The drinks offering is straightforward, don't-scare-the-horses stuff but with a firm grip on what the modern Melburnian pub-goer expects.
There are 17 beers and a cider on tap, with industrial giants like Carlton, Heineken and Kirin alongside smaller crafty producers such as Stomping Ground (the gose-style Passionfruit Smash) and WA's Gage Roads. The wine offer steers clear of anything too funky and minimal without avoiding it all together and has a generous number by the glass.
Cocktails are all $20 and stick to Espresso Martini-like greatest hits. The booze is OK but it's necessary to remember that this is a public not a cocktail bar, with drink-making skills more geared to volume than finesse. Still, if you insist on drinking martinis, the young, efficient and unfailingly friendly bar crew will ensure it'll arrive with a smile.
One of the biggest changes to the Prince Public Bar is the emphasis on food. There's good stuff here, including a more-than-decent cheeseburger and an excellent chicken schnitzel piled high with slaw you actually want to eat. There are several steaks on offer, including that $75 700-gram grass-fed bistecca T-bone, and snacks such as duck liver parfait, served stingily with half a tiny baguette and excellent sausage rolls that justify the price tag of $18 for three.
One of the larger dishes, a "crispy braised pork knuckle", was not crisp, under-seasoned and light on for a hefty $60.
With its pastels and modern artwork, the new Prince Public Bar seems polite at first glance. But as the night wears on, the drinks flow, the noise levels rise, and the energy of drag queens past seems to energise the place, promising plenty of scuzzy-edged good times still to be had.
Martini meter 2.5/5
A decent blend of Bombay Sapphire and Dolin vermouth marred by wait time, lack of chill and unskewered olives that look a little moth-eaten.
Go-to bar snack House-made sausage rolls with excellent fat content and admirable pastry washed down with a beer are a new St Kilda must-do, $18.