Back in 2016, when we published our first Crafty Crawl guide to the best beery spots in Melbourne's CBD, we wrote: "you may not know that the pipes in Melbourne CBD are slowly but surely filling with craft beer."
Three years on and "slowly but surely" has increased in pace somewhat as a greater number of the city's centre venues, having lagged behind those in many of the surrounding suburbs, have raised the bar when it comes to their beer offering.
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. As such, it's time to rework that initial Crawl into a two-parter, starting with the best spots south of Bourke Street.
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.
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's now a growing number across Victoria and New South Wales) 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 under a honeycomb canopy. Or, as of Good Beer Week 2019 (the venue has been the festival's Hub since 2015), there's a further option after what was previously the Grill upstairs was turned into another bar, complete with a wall featuring no less than 40 taps.
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. You could head north or south from here, but we'll take the latter option, particularly as in part two of this guide we'll be covering the CBD's north.
Beer DeLuxe sits on the edge of the Atrium on Flinder Street.
Arbory Bar & Eatery
Stroll down Flinders Street 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 appeared 150 metres of outdoor bar looking out over the river, which was quickly filled by plenty of people taking advantage of the view.
Since then, it's been augmented over the warmer months by Arbory Afloat, which is just what you'd imagine it to be: a floating version of the bar adding further colour to that side of the Yarra.
The container bars of the original venue, without venturing too far into the pointier end of the craft beer world, nevertheless host a range of craft beers from the likes of Stomping Ground, Stone & Wood, Green Beacon and Wolf of the Willows, and the wine list is worth a look too, which isn't something you might have expected to say about a train station bar.
Arbory Bar & Eatery is at 1 Flinders Walk.
Hopscotch is home to more than 30 taps, which serve up a mixture of the macro and the micro, understandable given its size and location in the heart of the tourist strip that is Southbank. From the start, the craftier offerings have always covered a fair whack of the beer spectrum and, over time, such beers have encroached ever further into space allocated to the big brands.
The venue is also home to one of Spark's nanobrewery setups and has been used by visiting brewers creating small batch one-offs, often launched at events featuring others from said brewery's lineup.
With a space for sitting, chatting and dining out the front, the Southbank bar also offers the ideal spot to people watch as crowds wander along the Yarra River. And what better way is their to people watch than with a delicious beer (or one of their nitro ice creams) in your hand?
Pull up a pew at 4/2 Riverside Quay, Southbank.
A block back from the river is where you can pay homage to one of the first venues to offer quality beer in the CBD, the 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 brewers like Holgate, Hop Nation, Tallboy & Moose or Mr Banks, or imports from Old World and New.
You can look out for beer events throughout the year or simply 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.
You'll find this good beer pioneer at 5 Riverside Quay, Southbank.
There have been calls for years from brewers, sales reps and beer geeks alike for restaurants to raise their game when it comes to their beer lists. The story goes that too often you’re sitting down to a nice cut of meat and presented with an impressive wine list only to find a collection of imported pale lagers lost somewhere towards the back of the menu as the sole beer option.
At Meatmaiden that’s certainly not the case because, while the cocktail and wine list has myriad options, beer’s given a spot to shine too. Sitting beneath Little Collins Street, if the name isn’t enough of a giveaway, the animals dry-ageing inside make it clear that Meatmaiden is about high-quality meat first and foremost.
But, if it’s beer you want served alongside your pound of flesh, there’s plenty of choice across the bar’s six taps, which regularly rotate through local beers and feature a range of styles that always provide ample ways to cut, contrast or complement what’s on your plate.
Indulge yourself at 195 Little Collins Street.
Fancy Hank's has moved around a fair bit over the years, originally starting out as a pop-up operation before moving to a spot overlooking the Queen Victoria Market where its bank of smokers would lure in all-comers.
Since 2016, it's been right at home in Bourke Street where the crew have maintained their commitment to serving up meats cooked low’n’slow alongside hearty sides. The prime location has also seen the team better able to focus on the beery side of their offering too, so there’s always a quality selection of styles to go with whatever you choose off the menu. They've been known to collaborate with local brewers like Two Birds to create beers designed with their menu in mind, and host beer launches and dinners throughout the year too.
If you’re not feeling so peckish or want to enjoy a quality beer in the sun, Good Heavens is a rooftop bar with a strong list of cocktails and spirits and where the beer list is just as good as down below.
Get Fancy at Level 1, 79 Bourke Street.
Other Places of Note
There's far more to uncover than just the above, with these beer-friendly locations worth considering too.
- The Crafty Squire – 127 Russell Street. The city's James Squire Brewhouse venue offers their full range plus occasional beers brewed on-site. Since an overhaul and expansion, it's a multi-faceted sprawling beast that also hosts bands, is a good spot for lunch and goes the extra mile for major sporting events.
- Young & Jackson – Corner Flinders & Swanston Streets. One of Melbourne’s most recognisable pubs, Young & Jackson is worth going to just to say you’ve been. Luckily, there’s a decent selection of beer pouring too amid the big brand offerings.
- FiftyFive – Basement 55 Elizabeth Street. Worthy of a full listing above were it not for the fact it's already featured in our 19 Tram Crawl, this ever-evolving stalwart of the CBD bar scene is a friend of many local craft brewers.
- Loop Roof – 23 Meyers Place. A rooftop bar that mostly pours Lion’s craft brands across its taps but has an impressive list of indie beers in its fridge too.
NB "Crafty Crawl" is our catch-all title for suburb, area or PT line guides to good beer around Australia and we're not suggesting you take any of them on in one go unless, of course, they're approached sensibly.
Additional entries by Will Ziebell.