Sitting on the edge of Melbourne's CBD, North Melbourne is a suburb filled with charming old buildings, cafés and – increasingly – craft beer.
Sure, the neighbourhood has long been home to plenty of pubs but often they didn't (and many still don't) stray too far from the safe harbour of macro lagers; if they did, it was purely to pour Guinness (which still holds steady in this part of the city).
In recent years, however, many of the suburb's oldest pubs have been injected with a new lease on life while new bars have opened. What's more, not before time, North Melbourne has joined its inner-city brethren and landed itself a brewery of its own too.
Given its proximity to the heart of the city, the area can be a great place to drop into for a single IPA, but you'll be equally well served by spending an afternoon wandering its tree-lined streets, or cruising the 'burb on the 57 tram, to check out the diversity of drinking holes on offer.
Like countless tourist guides to Melbourne, this Crafty Crawl kicks off at the Queen Victoria Market (technically still part of Melbourne's CBD, but hey, we don't make the rules) before crossing the border into North Melbourne proper.
Stop 1: Brick Lane Market
Their production brewery is located a fair distance away in Dandenong South, meaning Brick Lane Market is the best way to enjoy the brewery's beers and other beverages. Given it sits inside the Queen Vic precinct, the venue is also a handy way to wind up a morning spent picking through produce or knocking back a dozen oysters.
The pub was once home to the Mercat Cross Hotel and, while the exterior retains the grand old pub’s charm, the interior has been transformed into a sleek and modern taproom. The window seats and outdoor tables have to be one of Melbourne's best spots from which to people-watch; as you do, you can work through the brewery's core range and pilot batches that rarely appear elsewhere.
The menu is designed around fresh market produce and, at the time of writing, the upstairs area was being transformed into a restaurant. If you're in need of a little more Brick Lane in your life, you're in luck: the Brick Lane Shed is found a few metres away in String Bean Alley and, while you can bring food into that casual bar, if you don't order the paella from directly opposite you've not only made a terrible mistake but you also have more willpower than anyone else on earth.
Brick Lane Market can be found at 456 Queen Street, Melbourne.
Stop 2: Central Club Hotel
Brick Lane isn't the only place to enjoy quality craft beer while gazing upon the Queen Vic Markets – another angle is provided by the Central Club Hotel. The historic pub sits in Victoria Street on North Melbourne's southern boundary and has a long history of pouring beers for market workers and anyone in the area. Since the completion of a major renovation in 2023, however, those beers have looked a whole lot more local.
The venue is open and brightly lit thanks to the tall windows providing the perfect vantage point onto the Market and the food menu likewise makes use of the neighbouring stalls. It features a mix of pub classics and pastas with modern dishes designed for sharing. The drinks list is focused on Australian producers, including the beer taps (with the exception of Guinness – this is still North Melbourne, after all).
Eight taps pour a balanced and broad lineup of beers, while the pub's old keg cellar has been turned into The Depot, where you can enjoy a selection of cocktails and rare whiskies. Better yet, if you really want to get to know this part of the city, the pub doubles as a boutique hotel.
Settle in at the Central Club by heading to 240-248 Victoria Street.
Stop 3: Bobbie Peels
Bobbie Peels has been known by many names over its long history (including a spell when it served Ukrainian food and vodka as The Crimean). In recent times, the old corner boozer been pared back to its best and now focuses squarely on serving quality drinks and food.
Its modern and craftiest guise to date comes courtesy of Phil Gijsbers and Neil Mills, who launched Burnley Brewing a few years prior before switching to become publicans when they took over the boozer in 2022 – you can read more about their story here. The eight taps rotate frequently, the kegs are kept cold from arrival to the moment they land in your glass and, alongside offerings from many local breweries, the Bobbies (we don't think anyone has ever called the collective team by that name and apologise in advance for doing so) also seek out what's new, interesting and exciting from the rest of the country.
The food menu is Euro-leaning and changes to match the season; and, while it might be sacrilegious to write this in a beer publication, the wine list is also well worth exploring, thanks to the way classics and rare vintages sit beside modern and natural wines from local young guns. And if you're with a large group, there's an impressive array of magnums on offer too.
Bobbie Peels sits at 351 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne – as it has for more than a century.
Stop 4: Benchwarmer
Technically, we’re crossing over into West Melbourne here but is North Melbourne a place defined by rigid borders or more a state of mind? Wherever we are, the community always needed Benchwarmer, even if didn’t realise until the doors first opened in early 2020.
Certainly, Benchwarmer didn’t take long to cement itself as one of Melbourne's top beer bars; indeed, it's more than just a lovely local bar, it's a destination too.
You'll always find the bar’s many taps showcasing some of the finest craft beers from Melbourne, the rest of Australia and further afield too, with a focus on Japan, not least during the annual Pint of Origin festival. If the draught offerings don't pique your interest enough, the fridges are lined with tinnies you can enjoy in the bar or take home.
Benchwarmer is a small bar where the primary focus is beer, but it would be remiss of you not to sample the food too. The menu makes for a particularly delightful surprise, with the bar's mouthwatering dishes some of the finest you'll find that can be enjoyed with one hand, divided between Snacky Bois and Things On Sticks (aka Yakitori).
Grab a hazy with one hand and a snack with the other at 345 Victoria Street, West Melbourne.
Stop 5: The Courthouse Hotel
The Courthouse isn’t a newcomer to craft beer, good wine and excellent meals by any means but its return to offering all three took some time.
During the 2000s and early 2010s, the pub had a reputation as one of Melbourne's very best: a delightful local boozer that matched excellent food with a highly-rated wine list and several taps of craft beer at a time when there were precious few pubs or bars in the city whose owners even know such beers existed. It was a host venue for the very first Pint of Origin – and a couple of early Crafty-hosted pairing dinners too.
After then owner and head chef Scott Thomas (at time of writing found in the kitchen at the Junction in Newport) moved on, the pub went through a few owners before being revived by the team that's also responsible for reinventing Naughton’s in nearby Parkville*.
They'd always loved the pub so, upon securing the lease, they made sure they did it justice. The art deco charm has been restored and, as soon as you step inside, there's a sense of timelessness, in part thanks to the vinyl records on display as they fill the front bar with a warm hum, in part down to the painstaking manner in which the the old boozer's fixtures have been restored.
The wooden bar is lined with eight taps pouring craft beer, while The Courthouse team works with local breweries to find the right ale to pour through their traditional handpump. Order a beer served through that system to accompany a plate of sausages and mash and you might just feel you're in an English village.
Hold court at 86-90 Errol Street, North Melbourne.
*We did consider including Naughton's in this Crawl but we feel we’ve already been rather loose with postcodes...
North Melbourne’s first and only brewery, Twang welcomed their first guests in 2022 after owner Matt Simpson spent most of Melbourne’s lockdowns walking past a shuttered milk bar and wondering: “What if?”
The “what” turned into a small and welcoming venue where the bar overlooks the 200-litre system with which he keeps the taps loaded with fresh beer.
Maybe it's down to the way lockdowns made people appreciate their own backyards more, or maybe it's a sign that North Melbourne was well overdue for a crafty brewery – whatever the reason, the "if?" has been answered by the locals who quickly connected with Twang.
Grab a paddle of Matt's ever-changing lineup of beers as you watch over the tiny production setup downstairs while you enjoy a board game with mates and maybe that milk bar near you might start to look a little different too...
Tune into Twang at 21 Melrose Street, North Melbourne.
Given we've already pushed the boundaries of what's technically North Melbourne already, we've included a couple of other crafty options from outside the 'burn here too.
- Bonehead Brewing, 86 Parsons Street, Kensington – A short jaunt across the Moonee Ponds Creek, Bonehead's brewery is a mural-covered industrial unit that makes remarkably good use of every square inch on offer. As well as the brewery’s range of modern craft beers, you’ll also be able to enjoy saisons from their head brewer Casey Grieve's own label Sobremesa: he ferments and blends his beers in the warehouse next door.
- Henry St Brewhouse, 5/38 Barrett Street, Kensington – A tiny brewery in a quiet Kensington backstreet that’s cemented its reputation as a locals' local.
- Swords Wines, Shop 47-50 Dairy Produce Hall – Located inside the Queen Vic Market’s dairy hall, Swords Wines' shelves are lined with local craft beer, spirits and wines.
- The Castle Hotel, 56 Courtney Street, North Melbourne – unusually for pubs in Melbourne, and just about anywhere else selling beer in Australia, The Castle Hotel has a particular penchant for Belgian beer, with the fridges filled with some of the world’s best Abbey ales, all served in the right glassware.
You'll find other Crafty Crawls from around the country here and all the above venues and hundreds more, plus beers, events and special deals in the free Crafty Pint app. If there are any glaring omissions above, or new operations that should be here on the horizon, let us know!
Photo at top of the article was supplied by the Queen Victoria Market.