Crafty Crawls: Melbourne CBD

If you’re from regional Victoria or visiting from interstate – or, indeed, if you’re a Melbourne local who usually avoids the CBD like the plague (a completely valid life choice in many situations) – then you may not know that the pipes in Melbourne CBD are slowly but surely filling with craft beer.

Wherever you might find yourself in the city, a quality beer selection won’t be too far away, whether you’re sitting down to dinner or just looking for a quiet drink in a well-stocked bar. But, for those who need an extra steer to find the good stuff, or who have a Saturday in the city just crying out to be filled in fine style, then take a look below at our suggested itinerary for a Crafty Crawl of the CBD. 

What's more, with the CBD now a free tram zone, you won’t even need to do too much in the way of actual crawling.

Stop One: Beer DeLuxe, Federation Square

Like most tours of Melbourne, we’ll start things off at the city's hub: Federation Square. Make your way into the original Beer DeLuxe (there were five at time of writing and new owners, Dixon Hospitality, plan to take the brand much, much further) and take your pick from their ever-changing tap list and bottle selection from the bar inside. Alternatively, grab a schooner from the bar in the Flinders Street beer garden and claim an outside table so you can watch the world go by or head into the Square itself where you'll find another bar – the Burger Bar, to be precise – under a honeycomb canopy. 

Wherever you position yourself, Beer DeLuxe provides a perfect jumping off point for most inner city adventures, especially if you’re in a craft beer state of mind. And if you need any assurance of its craft beer credentials, they come from knowing it was the Good Beer Week Festival Hub in 2015 and 2016.

Stop Two: Mrs Parma’s, 25 Little Bourke Street

Can you name a dish more iconically Australian than the chicken parma? Either way, if you're in the mood for a slab of crumbed chicken (or one of their vego options) topped one of myriad ways, then a visit to Mrs Parma’s for lunch (or dinner) is the ideal pause in your tour of Melbourne’s beery centre. 

Take your pick from the ten-plus parmas on the menu – ranging from the classic ham topped version through to parmas with meatballs, chilli, or even vindaloo – and peruse the ten taps along the bar, which on any one day will feature Victorian loved breweries such as Boatrocker, Holgate, Moon Dog or Mornington. 

Mrs Parma’s was one of the first Victorian pubs to pour nothing but craft and has never wavered from its Victorian only approach. In early 2016, the owners Fiona Melbourne and Melissa Leaney expanded their operations, opening a second venue in Prahran, so those south of the river can get their pint and parma cravings sorted too.

Stop Three: Heartbreaker, 234a Russell Street

If you spend time in the States, it isn't hard to find dive bars pouring awesome beer. On one past trip, we recall enjoying Bells legendary Hopslam for some insanely reasonable price while sat amid a frankly (and, no doubt, deliberately) woeful and tacky recreation of an African safari. There's something so appealing about the sleaze of a dive bar – and if you can let it seep into your jeans with a good beer in hand, well...

Thus Heartbreaker has quickly become a Crafty Pint favourite since opening in the heart of the CBD. You're met by the neon sign above as you walk in, shining a moody glow upon booths and one end of a bar that's serviced by staff that know their shit pouring beers such as Boatrocker's Saison du Bateau and barrel aged drops from Hargreaves Hill (alongside some more mainstream "crafty" offerings) from taps with appealingly gnarly handles. There's a diverse can and bottle list too, while the spicy corn snacks are the perfect accompaniment.

It's the sister venue to The Everleigh, which supplies a handful of its excellent cocktails (pre-made), with the Negroni pretty damn tempting. There's pool out the back, stools so you can take up residence at the bar and, the pièce de resistance, the jukebox. You can't attempt to create a dive bar vibe without getting the music right and this beast will swing from guilty pleasures like ELO to hard rock to Hendrix and back again in the blink of an eye. The dim lighting and ambience can make an early evening visit feel a little seedy, yet it's open til 3am too. Look out!

Stop Four: Whisky & Alement, 270 Russell Street

Brooklyn Brewery's Garrett Oliver holds court at Good Beer Week 2014. Photo by Ricky Sullivan, used with GBW's permission.

You don't have far to go to find your next stop. That said, while the two venues are mere metres apart in distance, they're miles apart in feel. Whisky & Alement on Russell Street, where you’ll be partaking in an experience growing in popularity with each passing day: the boilermaker. 

Boasting a whisky list in excess of 500 different varieties and vintages, the team here knows its stuff better than anyone in Melbourne when it comes to the Scottish drop. Their small yet perfectly formed beer list offers up a range of boilermaker options depending on your preference for dark, malty, sweet, or smoky, and the bar team is always more than willing to mix and match if you have something in mind. So pull up a seat at the bar and see where the whisky takes you – you might just find something in that beer glass you’d never noticed before.

Stop Five: Cookie, 252 Swanston Street

It’s nigh on impossible to talk craft beer in Melbourne without Cookie being mentioned at some point. Smack bang in the middle of Swanston Street, and halfway up the much-loved old building that is Curtin House, Cookie is a classic location whether you’re a beer drinker or someone looking for a delicious, Thai-influenced bite. The menu is stuffed with delectable fare, and the staff are knowledgeable and always ready with a recommendation. 

But we’ve got beer business to attend to. The beer taps that line the bar along the stretch of the room are constantly rotating, with a good selection of local craft brews amid the more mainstream locked-in offerings, and the fridges are always well stocked with local and international beers too. This is a bar that knows what it's doing, and it’s even better when paired with a post-dinner snack of calamari, dumplings, or rice pancakes.

Stop Six: Arbory, 1 Flinders Walk

Stroll back down towards Flinders Street – or jump on a tram if you’re currently stuffed with Thai food and beer – to reach the Yarra and you will find Arbory – a bar that has transformed the Yarra's northside waterfront. Where there was previously dead space and an unused train line, you will now find 150 metres of outdoor bar looking out over the river, and plenty of people taking advantage of the view. 

The container bars, without going too far into the pointier end of the craft beer world, nevertheless host a range of craft beers such as Bridge Road, Brooklyn Brewery, Hawkers and 4 Pines, and the wine list is worth a look too, which isn't something you might have expected to say about a train station bar.

Stop Seven: Belgian Beer Café, 5 Riverside Quay, Southbank

To finish off, it’s time to pay homage to one of the first venues to offer quality beer in the CBD and make your way across the river to Belgian Beer Café. Tucked inside the base of the Eureka Tower on Southbank, Belgian Beer Café has been doing its thing since 2005. Despite the name, the bar has been more than happy to open its doors to beers from breweries far and wide, whether it be local kids like Wolf of the Willows, US breweries such as Sierra Nevada, or classic Belgian brews such as Rodenbach. 

With the night drawing to a close, find yourself a table on the outdoor terrace to look out over the city, and work your way through a selection of their 33 taps and 200 strong bottle list until you’re ready to call it a night. And, with these spots all accounted for, what a night it will have been.

Although, if you're after more... 

Something Different: Sun Moth Canteen, 28 Niagara Lane

Sun Moth Canteen is one of Melbourne’s best hidden gems. Tucked down a laneway just off Little Bourke Street, Sun Moth keeps a well curated tap list filled with craft beer from Victoria and beyond, does a strong line in organic and natural wines, and its food menu is an ever-evolving combination of hearty grains, sandwiches, and charcuterie. 

The beautifully lit space, with its central bar, white bleached walls and large wooden tables, makes for a perfect lunch or dinner location with a couple of friends, or to settle in with a beer for a meeting or working lunch.

Other Places of Note

There's far more to uncover than just the above, with these beer-friendly locations well worth adding to any hit list.

  • Boilermaker House – 209 / 211 Lonsdale Street. Specialising in – you guessed it...
  • Metropolitan Hotel – 262 William Street. A perfect spot for a beer near the Queen Victoria Markets.
  • The Crafty Squire127 Russell Street. The city's James Squire Brewhouse venue offers their full range plus a changing lineup brewed onsite. Since its overhaul and expansion, it's a multi-faceted sprawling beast that also hosts weekly bands, is a great spot for lunch and goes the extra mile for major sporting events.
  • Magic Mountain Saloon – 62 Little Collins Street. The newest venture from the owners of Cookie.
  • Young & Jackson – Corner Flinders & Swanston Streets. Not as crafty as it once was since owners ALH signed major deals with Lion and CUB but a Melbourne icon all the same that dedicates 15 of its 50-plus taps to independent breweries.
  • Bar Nacional – 727 Collins Street. A bright spot in Docklands, where craft beer is hard to find.
  • Penny Blue – 2 Driver Lane. A quirky bar with a strong focus on craft beer in the city's old Money Office.
  • Hopscotch – New in Summer 2016/17, this Southbank venues mixes craft offerings with mainstream to suit its location and is promising collabs on a small in-house brewery.

You can view other Crafty Crawls here and look out for more from across the country appearing on the site every month.

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