Ascot Vale sits relatively close to Melbourne’s CBD but there’s an air of country town about the northern suburb, a feat that’s rather impressive given there’s a tram runnning up the middle of Union Road.
And it’s largely thanks to that main road that there's a sense of community about the place, with the old buildings along Union filled with small businesses eager to welcome locals who more closely resemble old friends than customers through their doors.
Nowhere is that truer than Ascot Vale Cellars, a local’s local dedicated to getting craft beer into the hands of customers. Opening midway through the 2010s, the bar and bottleshop has long been providing a home for anyone eager to explore new flavours and kick back with close company; since 2020, it’s been doing so under the guidance of Jane Kinsey and her family, after Jane decided to return to hospitality following a period working in IT.
Walk inside and you’ll find six taps, 150 beers in the fridges that can be enjoyed there or at home, a wide and varied wine list that focuses on local producers, and an impressive array of spirits lining the back bar. Although the beer list is one that frequently changes – as do the beers in the fridges – it’s always a safe bet that, on walking inside, you’ll find many of Melbourne’s independent breweries, plus those from further afield too.
A pandemic might not have been the ideal moment in which to take over a bar but, for Jane, it provided her the chance to tweak the venue while still operating as a bottleshop, thus maintaining relationships with locals, during the lockdowns.
When you take over a local, however, you might own it but it’s arguably better to think of yourself as the custodian of the place, shaping its course rather than changing direction entirely. And it can only be said that Ascot Vale Cellars’ most recent changes have all been for the better: installing an upgraded tap system and building a joyous beer garden that’s even more joyous when it fills with dogs and their owners.
You’ll also find elements of Ascot Vale and its surrounds displayed throughout the venue, including old champions from Melbourne Cup races that are long since run. The mural on Union Road stylishly captures the area and has found its way onto Ascot Vale Cellars’ own cans, made for them by their close mates at Bonehead in nearby Kensington.
Jane’s stewardship has also seen the watering hole focus more heavily on their cocktail game, while empty stomachs can be sated with pizzas and a range of snacks.
Open every day from midday until late, while Ascot Vale Cellars’ main focus is on putting a delicious range of drinks into people’s hands, it’s far from the venue's only reason for being.
Sure, the tap list and beer fridges change often while fortnightly tastings – whether wine, beer or spirits – have become a key part of the offering. But, more than that, it’s also a place you can go to watch the footy, catch up with a mate while enjoying beer and pizza, or share a cheese board over a lazy afternoon.
After all, you’re in a local’s local in what’s as close to a country town as you’ll find in a city of five million.