Long before Melbourne was synonymous with laneway bars and restaurants, the Kirk name was at the centre of the city’s fledgling retail and hospitality worlds. From the 1840s, Kirk’s Bazaar – the strip running north from Bourke Street between Queen and Elizabeth – was a thriving horse trading market, where deals were made, business discussed, and races planned.
Often, all the above would occur at the Kirk’s Bazaar Hotel, one of the city’s oldest licensed venues and the spot where the Melbourne Cup was first envisaged. Though it’s been many years since horses patrolled that particular laneway – during which time the laneway’s name has changed – Hardware Lane has returned with a vengeance as a popular destination for dining and drinking.
As for the eponymous hotel that sat on the corner, Kirk’s Bazaar Hotel, well, that didn’t flourish as early as many of the contemporary spots along Hardware Lane. Instead, it faded first into a quiet camping store then into an even quieter empty building.
That was until 2014 when Con Christopoulos and Josh Brisbane, the Melbourne restaurateurs behind the likes of The European, Siglo and City Wine Shop, teamed up with Ian Curley, the chef behind The European and The Supper Club, to open Kirk’s Wine Bar. The cosy wine bar brought the Kirk name back to the booze world and the venue quickly garnered a reputation on the back of its extensive wine list and prime position from which to people watch as Melbourne’s late afternoons turned into evenings.
Early in 2016, that same group opened the restaurant French Saloon above the bar and, by the end of that same year, they’d added Kirk’s Pub. The result is three separate yet connected operations all sitting under the one banner, with the last of them adding quality beer to the mix.
Like the building’s other two residents, the modern day Kirk’s delivers a space where simplicity is key; a dozen sleek beer taps await anyone who steps inside to sit along the meandering centrepiece of a bar that matches the curved windows peering out onto Little Bourke Street.
By and large, those taps are focused on the local, with the likes of 3 Ravens, Sailors Grave, Temple and Bridge Road often gracing them. Beers from slightly further afield, whether Two Metre Tall or Green Beacon, make regular appearances too, along with a packaged list made up of beers sourced from across the globe.
As a space it recreates the feel of a European café where, almost as soon as the clock hits 5pm, it starts to fill with city workers signing off with a selection from the regularly changing lineup of beers. When the bar is full – or even if it’s not – the downstairs cellar, with its welcoming bluestone walls, is as good a place as any in the centre of Melbourne to catch up over a beer and charcuterie board.
For those settling in for more than a few afterwork drinks, the menu is largely focused on snacks, with hot chips making a steady procession from the kitchen along with bowls of pickles, olives, nuts and hearty servings of Scotch eggs.
Given Kirk’s nearest neighbour has such an extensive wine list, the fruits of the vine aren’t to the fore here; instead, those after something other than beer will find far more attention given to spirits. Many are sourced from within Australia and chosen for their ability to be turned into boilermakers.
It’s a fine recipe for whiling away a few hours in a space where, sitting at the bar, it’s easy to feel like not too much has changed in the last century and a half. At least until you raise a freshly poured IPA to your mouth, the hops hit your nose, and you're reminded that, when it comes to beer at least, plenty has changed. And for the better.