A stiff whisky may warm your insides, but it’s going to take more than that to get through a Melbourne winter. It’s necessary to call in the cavalry: haul friends out of hibernation, find a position by the fireplace, acquire a glass of red wine and order the most comforting thing on the menu. Take that, winter! Fill your belly, warm your fingertips by the fireside and toast to the joys of winter at these fine Melbourne establishments.
Could there be anything cosier than a bar and a bookshop? Fiction and fine wine? Hardcovers and hops? A magnum opus and an Old Fashioned? A volume of prose and pinot? OK, that’s enough. Buck Mulligan’s is a bookworm’s dream pub. Part bookshop, part pub, it has a roaring fire before which rowdy book-club groups debate the latest releases and solo readers enjoy a snifter from the large selection of Irish whiskey. Dial up the inner warmth factor with an Irish Coffee or Hot Whiskey.
217 High Street, Northcote
Marquis of Lorne
The white beacon of the Marquis of Lorne has beckoned the beer-drinkers of Fitzroy for 150 years from its cosy corner. It remains above all a neighbourhood pub, despite a 2014 spit-and-polish and a serious menu upgrade. And there’s nothing more warming than a place where everybody knows your name (just ask Ted Danson). Each of the three levels serves a different purpose. Head to the first floor for a cosy dining room bathed in the warm glow of the open fire. The menu encompasses such winter fare as roast half chicken with mash and lentil gravy, braised lamb neck with warm carrot salad, and, of course, a surprise roast every Sunday. Most recently, the pub served up steaming plates of slow-roasted beef rib with potato gratin, red cabbage and beetroot slaw.
411 George Street, Fitzroy
The Local Taphouse
The Local Taphouse sure does feel right neighbourly, with its worn leather chesterfields, fireplaces and impressive rotation of beers – not to mention an indoor bocce court for just the right level of winter exertion. Wall sconces cast a yellow warmth onto the wood-panelled walls, the beer garden is warmed by a log fire and inside, a crackling fireplace welcomes those coming in from the cold. On Sundays, there’s a roast and the European-inspired menu is all modern pub fare: hummus and spiced lamb on Turkish bread, confit duck leg and black cabbage, and mussels in white wine.
184 Carlisle Street, East St Kilda
The Railway Hotel
The glow emanating from the Railway Hotel beckons wayfarers treading the quiet, chilly backstreets of South Melbourne. “Come in out of the cold,” it says, “the fireplace is stoked!” So it is, and no-one should walk past a perfectly good pub in the dead of winter without stopping for a pot to discuss the day’s happenings with an understanding neighbour/barkeep/complete stranger. The enormous L-shaped hardwood bar, old locker-style fridges and mismatched furniture is no accident: there’s never been a major refurb. The preference is to preserve and restore the bar, and the dark booths, two fireplaces and unpretentiousness only adds to the feeling of cosy wellbeing. On Sundays, there’s a traditional $20 roast with all the trimmings, and on Thursday, we recommend partaking of the steak, bacon and cheese pie with your ale.
280 Ferrars Street, South Melbourne
Less Than Zero
It’s unclear whether this bar’s name refers to Melbourne’s average winter temperature or the Bret Easton Ellis novel (1985) and film (1987) of the same name (starring Robert Downey Jr, FYI). If it’s the former, Less Than Zero’s fireplace, pool table, sheltered/heated courtyard and whisky collection can help rid the chill from your bones.
153 Commercial Road, South Yarra
There’s an austerity to the décor at Katuk – polished concrete floors, simple wooden seating with sleek black ottomans and grey walls – that’s mitigated by its book-lined main room, roaring fireplace and extensive menu of $8 jaffles including spaghetti with cheese, pulled pork and apple slaw, and cheddar, Swiss, Brie and truffle oil. We’re warming up just thinking about it.
517a Chapel Street, South Yarra
Grace Darling Hotel
Local bands, local beer and a diversity of local people are what the venerable (1854, Melbourne’s second-oldest pub) Grace Darling is all about. Even the menu focuses on local, seasonal produce for its winter-friendly offerings: tasty morsels such as beef cheek croquettes with pumpkin jam; orecchiette with braised oxtail; and saltbush lamb rump with twice-cooked chunky chips. Cosy nooks, well-worn chesterfields and various fireplaces complete the mid-winter warming.
114 Smith Street, Collingwood
Caz Reitop’s Dirty Secrets
Like a Prohibition-era speakeasy only more relaxed (no threat of arrest, no risk of bathtub gin-distilling explosions) Caz Reitop’s Dirty Secrets offers succour to night owls haunting the late-night entertainment end of Smith Street. Its winter appeal lies in the two blazing open fireplaces, the warm yellow glow of candlelight and snug booths with drawn velvet curtains, which lend the place a slightly clandestine vibe. What could be more conspiratorially cosy?
80 Smith Street, Collingwood
A 19th-century church turned pub, the Wesley Anne retains elements of its past and melds them with its present. There are the soaring pitched ceilings, candlelight and confessionals of old and the beer garden with blazing open fire; live, sinful rock’n’roll bands; and those confessionals now transformed into cosy booths of its present incarnation. It all makes for a very snug evening – especially if you factor in the slow-braised lamb shoulder, French lentil and vegetable pot pie, and sticky date pudding on the menu.
250 High Street, Northcote
Next to the large and sometimes overwhelming Brunswick Mess Hall is a sibling: Little Mess. Like all younger siblings, this one is smaller, cuter and more charismatic (younger sibling, here!) than its big brother. The diminutive bar has a heated beer garden and there are blankets for truly warming those chilled limbs. Other ways to keep warm at Little Mess: belting out some tunes at Thursday night karaoke, dining on an order of fragrant curry puffs or sipping a steaming mug of mulled cider.
400 Sydney Road, Brunswick