Back in 1999, Brendan Brogan and Luke Delaney saw potential for a venue in the city that offered something different from the standard Melbourne CBD fare: a friendly oasis where you could escape the stress of the rat race and have a drink with friends in comfort.
Tucked away down an inconspicuous stairwell on Elizabeth Street, the bar became a haven for Melbourne creatives, office workers and music lovers, thanks to its laid-back feel and welcoming staff.
Now, almost 20 years on, they have upped their beer game while retaining the ethos that has ensured their longevity in the increasingly competitive Melbourne bar scene. Today, known as Fiftyfive following renovations, they’ve added more taps, refreshed the fridges, and focused on supporting small, independent breweries rather than the big boys.
Now stocking more than 50 different drops from the likes of Boatrocker, Moon Dog, Hawkers, Venom, Fury & Son and Bodriggy Brewing Co – and regularly rotating their tap list – beer events have become a regular fixture on the calendar, and every Monday their Kill the Keg line cleaning night attracts beer lovers keen for $3 pots of the good stuff.
While the beer offerings may have sharpened, Fiftyfive remains true to its roots. Local DJs spin four nights a week, and the bar hosts fortnightly art exhibitions, providing a platform for the city’s emerging talent and a venue for punters to see and hear something left of centre.
The focus on customer service remains, and venue manager Oli Garwood and his crew pride themselves on making new and familiar faces feel at home from the moment they come down the stairs, upholding the sense of community that’s sometimes lost in the city’s higher volume bars.
Despite being a stalwart of the scene for as long as it has, Fiftyfive is not stuck in its ways, with evolution the main pillar of its existence. Since opening, Brendan and Luke have gone on to open Melbourne hot spots Black Cat, The Workshop and Howler, and a similar thread runs through them all: art, creativity and hospitality are easy bedfellows.
But now a new friend – craft beer – has been added to the mix, and Fiftyfive is even better for it.