For much of the 19th century and for a surprisingly large part of the 20th century, Dr Morse’s Indian Root Pills were sold across the world to treat all sorts of unlikely ailments. Originating in America, and soon finding their way to Australia, the pills were a popular means to try and fix conditions ranging from acne and bad breath to influenza and jaundice.
As a result, those pills were advertised wildly throughout turn-of-the-century Melbourne, a fact discovered accidently by Pete Walsh, Anthony Daniels and Jonathon Costello when they were creating their Abbotsford haunt. The trio was sandblasting an old wall when they discovered an old Dr Morse mural, thereby giving a name to their new project.
While no false cure-alls are sold by the Abbotsford café, bar and eatery, there is much about the space of a restorative quality. Located on the Victoria Park end of Johnston Street, from early each morning until late every night Dr Morse fills with commuters, office workers and locals looking for either a quick fix or place in which to spend a long session.
The front bar is encased by large open windows, making for some of best people watching in Melbourne. Yet Dr Morse’s real gem is the beer garden out the back, where vines line the sides of a space that’s far more expansive than you’d believe from the outside and just as suitable for afternoon beers as it is for late night revelry.
It’s this side of Dr Morse’s nature – being a place to spend long hours in the afternoon – that influences the beer lineup. While you’ll find a broad range of styles on offer at any time across the eight different lines pouring throughout the venue, particular love is given to beers best enjoyed in the outdoors. Whether it’s pilsners, fresh pales or IPAs, saisons or summer-minded sours, the staff at Dr Morse prioritise those drinks they know suit outdoor dining.
The other main concern on the beer front is getting hold of the freshest beers they can; as a result, the bar tends to shop locally, something that became even easier when Dr Morse’s brewing sibling, Bodriggy Brewing Co, opened in a warehouse across the road in 2019.
The bar’s drinks list is rounded out by a sharp and smart collection of spirits that tend to gravitate towards the modern craft variety. Local wines are given plenty of attention, with a fair devotion towards natural wines in keeping with Dr Morse’s belief that the less processed the better.
It’s a philosophy that extends to the menu, where ingredients are sourced as sustainably and ethically as possible; this includes initiatives such sending the kitchen’s food waste to compost in the neighbouring veggie patch.
The menu itself is a modern take on Asian fusion, one in which it’s nigh on impossible to attach any one country of origin to a certain meal. It’s an approach that holds all day, from a breakfast menu including the likes of chow mein and scrambled tofu through to a seasonally changing lineup of stir fries, curries and ramen served running late into the evening. In summer, the beer garden’s grill gets fired up for Asian style barbecue and woks push out classic Asian-style street food too.
With equal focus given to food, coffee and alcohol, no matter the time of day, Dr Morse is the kind of place that’s a little difficult to pin down. Yet what’s guaranteed is – as those who sold the original Indian Root Pills would have once said – the doctor is certainly good for whatever ails you.