Good for: Rounding off dinner with friends; ending up when everywhere else is closed.
Food: Smoked salmon on toast ($7.50), tzatziki dip ($5.50) with lovely warm Turkish bread; marinated olives, Bulgarian feta, meatballs... supper, like they say.-
Bloody Mary: $7.50 and right on the money: crisp non-leafy celery, complexity of flavour and enough kick. Overheard conversation: "The point of all this is to amass capital, not shift it."
Open: Saturday to Thursday 8pm-5am; Friday 6pm-5am.
Spleen Central, 41 Bourke Street. Tel: 9650 2400
To vent your spleen is to rid yourself of excess spite, to shout, scream and carry on. But there's not much anger in here, a cool four-roomed bar in the heart of Bourke Street's chaos. Spleen is moody though - but only because there are so many portions to it. The busy entrance area is comfortable, with stools and lamps at the bar. The back room is dimmer with wooden chairs and table settings - which remain from the previous Metro Brasserie. In between are a variety of different lounges and a small stage where, on weekends, jazz players perform for free. Upstairs has a more intimate atmosphere. It's an away-from-the-bar type lounge room; a comfortable place to chat in secret. Set up three years ago by artist/architect Richard Todd and a pair of business partners, Spleen is clearly influenced by the aesthetics of Spain. The decor - lamps, glass bricks, beaded curtains, mirrors and paintings - has come from auctions and garage sales.
A simple drinks list includes basic spirits, a small but constantly updated wine list and a fine selection of imported and local beers - including the great long-neck VB. The music is always jazzy - you'll hear Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, Directions in Groove and Tom Waits at a comfortable volume if there's no band playing.
The crowd changes significantly through the evening, from the after-work suits to uni types and artists and designers deeper into the night.
Good for: A quiet drink in the noisiest part of town.
Food: The bar basics ... chips, olives, cheeses and cabana-
Bloody Mary: What do you expect for only $5? Pretty standard.
Overheard conversation: "So I sent him an email then he sent me an email then later I emailed him back but Eudora was down and he never got it.''
Open: 5pm until 1am during the week; 5pm until 3am at weekends.
Becco, 11 Crossley Street. Tel: 9663 3000
Becco's bar is a mix of contradictions for a mix of people. It's popular early in the evening with stubby-holding suits but later the Gucci set takes over. You'll see them nursing their Campari and tonics on the fashionable leather banquettes.
The drinking lounge is run in conjunction with the upmarket, and very good restaurant to one side of the bar. The decor is art deco with a strong European influence - dark wood bar and tables, stone-flecked concrete floor, stainless-steel bar stools and leather banquettes furnish the room. Owners Elizabeth Egan and Simon Hartley, formerly of Onions in Commercial Road, opened the restaurant with partner Richard Lodge just over two years ago. "People use it for different reasons,'' says Hartley. "Some people just have a drink in here before moving into the restaurant. Last week we even had people dancing on the bar.'' Great cocktails and 35 wines by the glass.
Good for: A relaxed drink without overbearing music. And if hunger strikes, you're in luck.
Food: Definitely. Try flour-dusted calamari with chilli, $9.50; bruschetta for $6.50 or freshly shucked oysters at $1.60 each-
Bloody Mary: $8.50. Just right, like all their drinks.
Overheard conversation: ''I can't believe you're travelling through Europe with only a backpack, how can you fit all of your clothes?''
Open: Monday to Friday 10am-1am approx. Saturday 12noon-1am
Rue Bebelons, 267 Little Lonsdale Street. Tel: 9663 1700
Like boarding a plane to South America. On a hot day, an old industrial fan blows breeze and smoke through the open front door. The walls are crimson. Dried roses hang from the roof. Latin rhythms pump from the turntables. It's more Montevideo than Melbourne. While the vinyl seat covers, ashtrays and have a '70s retro feel, the crisp white tablecloths and vases of flowers infuse the freshness of an Italian restaurant. Tables seat between two and four and stools at the bar attract solo drinkers who are happy to read a book, newspaper or simply tap their feet to the music. It is the type of place you could write your first novel, and develop severe liver problems.
Suits are welcome - just don't talk about money. Philosophy, art, music and the environment are the preferred topics of conversation. The bar attracts many art and design students from nearby RMIT, as well as all types of professionals having a drink after work. It then thins out a bit before filling up with punters looking for a drink before they hit the city clubs.
Good for: Funky music after work - and an escape from the sleazy suits-and-secretaries' bars.
Food: Fresh rolls and dips-
Bloody Mary: $5. Average.
Overheard conversation: "Freud was right all along. Dreams are hidden desires.''
Open: Tuesday to Friday: 8am to 3am; Sat: 11am to late
Hell's Kitchen 20 Centre Place. Tel: 9654 5755
This one's a terrific secret. If the usual pub or bar - the usual thing, the same old, same old - does not suit your frame of mind, here is an alternative. Centre Place, off Flinders Lane between Swanston and Elizabeth Streets, is a curious collection of tiny shops, cheap takeaways and rare books. On Friday nights, as these shops shut their roller doors, Hell's Kitchen stays open. What once was a stamp collector's shop has been cleverly transformed by owners Peter Roisseter and Linda Bradac. The space is narrow (fitting only about 20 people) but it is used well. This is the bar with no bar - instead, when you arrive, you sit at a table in their kitchen. So you drink and chat among stainless steel cupboards and bench tops, hand-made Italian tiles, a huge soup pot and chrome baskets full of baguettes and croissants. The original parquetry floor has been painstakingly relayed and polished. Most of the clientele are jewellers, artists and fashion designers from the studios in Flinders Lane, but there are also travel agents, bankers and shoppers from Collins Street who wander through the laneway. During the week, the place operates as a breakfast and lunch cafe but opens later on Friday nights. The bar stocks only the essentials - there just isn't the space for more. Choose from four beers, basic spirits, a few wines and the odd cocktail.
Good for: A unique experience.
Food: Strictly speaking it's a cafe before a bar. You can have food with your Friday-night drink - if there's any left -
Bloody Mary: Above average, $6.50.
Overheard conversation: "I was going to get a haircut, I was racing to get there and the road was a bit slippery and I fell off my motorbike."
Open: 8am to 6.30pm during the week; 8am to 10.30pm on Fridays.
Misty 3-5 Hosier Lane. Tel: 9663 9202
If you're not young, lithe, and studying fine art (or at least hairdressing), Misty isn't quite the bar for you. But it's worth sticking your head around the door anyway for purely anthropological and architectural purposes because it's such a scene. The owners - a builder and an artist, both 28 - freely admit their target audience is art school-derived, and this probably explains the decor, best described as modelled on the Pan Am spaceport in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's all fluid shapes and retro colours: creamy banquettes mould themselves to the walls, serving little tiled tables; there's a random display of multicoloured round lights; rice-paper lanterns constantly change colour on the ceiling. It's actually two rooms, bisected by a wall with a hole in it; and part of the space opens onto the lane, which would be a godsend on packed nights - it was hot enough inside on a quiet one.
Decor aside, the actual functions of the bar are pretty laid-back, studentish, almost. They sell cigarettes for 50 cents each and you might get table service, but don't depend on it.
Good for: A laugh. There's a fair bit of posing going on.
Food: Not really. They'll serve up a bowl of "wasabi peas'' or olives for $3, otherwise you'll have to wait till March, when they plan to start serving hot food -
Bloody Mary: Cheap at $4.50 but pretty awful: too sweet and no celery.
Overheard conversation: (Woman) "My producer came up to me and said (unintelligible) and I just wanted to throw my arms around him and give him a big hug. Do you think that would have been OK?'' (Man) "Oh yes, definitely.''
Open: 5pm-11pm Sunday and Monday. 5pm until 1am every other day.
Syracuse, 23 Bank Place. Tel: 9670 1777
There are groovier bars in town. There are brasher and louder bars. But Syracuse is the most beautiful. With soaring ceilings, antique furniture and romantic lamp-chandeliers, it recalls a European salon or a relaxed London club.
At first glance it might seem more restaurant than bar. The music is background, and could be anything from Keith Jarrett to mellow blues to Andres Segovia. And there's no throng of people queuing for a drink; they do things differently here. It's civilised. The room is filled with tables, from little one-or two-person round ones to solid country-home numbers. But it is a bar, as well as a restaurant, tapas joint, breakfast place and cafe. You can drop in at 8pm on a Friday, sit down and order a cocktail, and no one is going to mind.
The drinks list is a thick wad of documents, which suits the legal and investment fraternity that makes Syracuse its second home. There's everything imaginable in the list but you know you're in a place that loves wine: bottles line the window ledges and crowd into glass cabinets.
Good for: A relaxed drink with delicious snack in a gorgeous room.
Food: Yes. A very good Mediterranean-influenced menu -
Bloody Mary: Unimpeachable. $7, with celery.
Overheard conversation: "Oh, you spent New Year's Eve in New York? Fantastic. Where did you go?''
Open: 7.30am-11pm Monday to Friday; weekend functions by appointment.
Lounge, 243 Swanston Walk. Tel: 9663 2916
Have you been in a cave? Because if you haven't visited Lounge in its busy decade of existence then something is up. This is the classic Melbourne bar/club/eatery - the vintage lamps hanging from the roof; the patchwork decor; the funky, progressive music; the classy bar food. And Lounge is different every night of the week. You could say it transforms from bar to club around 10pm - Wednesday night hosts Australia's longest-running techno night, Filter, until the sun comes up. And Saturday is hip-hop night, Purveyors, another influential happening around town for those into new music. But until then it's a bar, pure and simple. Inside, there are wickedly comfortable booths around the room's edge, and two pool tables. There's a very loose atmosphere and no attitude at all - much of the early-evening clientele are RMIT students from over the road or the more groovy city workers. Anything goes, basically. It's owned by Carlo Colosimo, Paul Del Sin, Peter Treble and Andrew Snow - who also own St Kilda's Big Mouth and the restaurant Vis, which is downstairs. They all cut their teeth at Richmond's Cherry Tree.
Good for: Large, noisy gatherings.
Food: Masses of it, displayed on a blackboard menu until reasonably late. Examples: tuna salad for $9, smoked chicken risotto for $10-
Bloody Mary: It would have been $6 but they had no Worcestershire sauce.
Overheard snippet of conversation: "I wish there was a lift. I skateboarded here from uni and my feet hurt.'' Open: 10am until very late every day.
Scubar, 389 Lonsdale Street. Tel: 9670 2400
The disco theme is big at Scubar. There are fish tanks bubbling away just above eye level in the middle of the room. There are beaded curtains everywhere, cordoning off a small dancefloor-cum-stage as well, and some truly awful shag-pile carpet extends up most walls. The floor is concrete but the walls are carpeted - genuine 1970s logic. The pool table has leopard-skin felt. And they also have those strange white pLastic bucket seats. But the big trick in terms of furnishings is the futon bed in a hidden alcove. If it could talk we're sure it would. Opened nearly two years ago by decorator Suzanne Balmain, Scubar is, once again, part lounge, part bar and part club. Most nights there's a DJ or two playing house music or funk, although every night has a different theme. City workers tend to come in early, then it clears and the younger crew descend to dance. It gets very busy; sometimes it's more like a mini-rave than a bar. Balmain says anyone's welcome as long as they're "nice''.
Good for: The big night out.
Food: A fruit and cheese platter for $5 - Bloody Mary: $6, and very good for the price.
Overheard conversation: "I knew I'd get that prime park out the front. I just knew. All the way down the freeway I was thinking `good park, good park'. I told my little car to find it and it did.''
Open: 4pm until midnight Monday to Wednesday. 4pm until 3am Thursday, Friday, Sunday. 6pm until 3am Saturdays.
Double O, Sniders Lane. Tel: 9654 8000
Once the basement of jazz venue Ruby Reds, the Double O has been hiding for about six months and is clearly not trying to attract too much attention. The entrance is a suitably understated purple door and the corridor leading into the club has some very chic brown-vinyl-cushioned walls. The place comprises two basement rooms which would struggle to fit more than 100 people at any one time. But small, in this case, is beautiful. Lit with '60s lamps, the decor follows a purple and red theme and has a strong emphasis on low-backed, booth-like seating. Just for something different, there is a large tropical fish tank at the bar and three alcoves in the back room with beaded curtains for intimacy. The best thing about Double O is that it's not cluttered or overdone, so while the place is small and the roof low, it doesn't feel cramped. The bar has no tap beers or post-mix drinks so if you order a coke it's going to be the real thing. Co-owner Gerald Diffey, who started the Kent Hotel in Carlton and the Locarno in Prahran, says that patrons tend to be a fairly casual crowd who mostly order mixed drinks of the scotch and coke variety. The DJ spins funky soul, hip-hop and garage. Busiest times are after midnight and entry is free.
Good for: A full-on dance session, late.
Food: No- Bloody Mary: $5 and standard, albeit without celery. Overheard conversation: ''Nah man, don't try to rush it by trying to get over it quickly or whatever. You got a cigarette?''
Open: Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights 9pm-5am.
The Up Top Bar, Level 1/163 Russell Street Tel: 9663 8990
Perched peacefully above Russell Street's dubious goings-on, the Up Top's ceiling gallery of kooky lights and lush red curtains recalls Fitzroy's Nightcat, and that's perfectly reasonable, because co-owner David Dann, 39, is also involved there.
Frequenters are generally pretty people, and the place is vibey without arrogance - but the atmosphere isn't going to bowl you over.
Dann, who set up the bar in 1995, used to visit the place when it was a nasty Italian restaurant. He loved the space and dreamt about transforming it into a bar. One day, he asked the owner if he wanted to sell and they negotiated a "ridiculously normal'' price. Not a bad investment, considering Dann filled it cheaply with stuff from op shops and created a successful city bar when there weren't many others around. The music is different every night and there's a chandelier-lit back room where people can dance to DJs.
Good for: Picking up a fellow uni student on a drunken Saturday night. Food: Just bar snacks and pretzels -
Bloody Mary: $9 (one and a half shots of Stoli Vodka). Not bad. Weepy celery.
Overheard conversation: "She's not the sort of chick you can be friends with.''
Open: From 4pm Wednesday to Sunday, licensed until 3am Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday, until 5am on Friday and Saturday. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
THE WINE AND JAZZ APPRECIATION SOCIETY NEWS, VOL 5, NO 10, 1/4/99
"I'm a psychic amnesiac. I know in advance what I'll forget." Michael McShane
Every now and then you strike a musical event that, out of the blue, rocks your socks off. Such was the effect of the David Lindley/Wally Ingram collaboration at the Continental. In Oz for the Byron Bay Blues Festival, their sojourn to Melbourne was much appreciated by the moderate-size audience. David is a veteran guitarist having toured here with Jackson Browne many years ago, and with Ry Cooder in about 1978 at the Palais - a concert of which I have fond memories. In those days, he was very much in-demand as a session musician, being one of the few maestros of the lap steel guitar. During the Seventies, he graced the albums of many fine musicians, such as Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, and other popular performers like Rod Stewart. He, additionally, formed a cult band of limited popularity called El Rayo-X.
David is touring and recording now with Wally Ingram, a native of Wisconsin. Wally has toured as drummer and percussionist for Jackson Browne, Sheryl Crow, Blues Traveller, and Tracy Chapman's Crossroads Tour, also with Taj Mahal and Col. Bruce Hampton, Neil Young, and Toad The Wet Sprocket. Additionally, he toured Japan with Art Garfunkel and most recently worked on a project for Miles Copeland's new label Arc 21 (Pat MacDonald Sleeps With His Guitar). He is a relatively young percussionist, and together with David, they produce an infectious blend of music reminiscent of early Ry Cooder blues albums (e.g., Boomers Story), with some reggae, Hawaiian and European touches. Wally's drum kit was a revelation, and the use of "hot rods" - a series of very thin sticks bound together to produce a multi stick - tempered the sound of the drumming which otherwise may have overwhelmed the acoustic guitar of his colleague. His kit was organised in most unconventional fashion, and he added tambourines to his hi-hat and ride cymbals for added sonic interest. His seat was a miked hollow box that he at times played as if it were a bongo. He had numerous hollow objects (including an army helmet) to thump, and strings of little bells to tinkle. He also employed brushes, and open-hand at times on the floor drums and at other times on some unidentified African hollow drums held on his lap. His floor toms looked like marching band drums with rope used to provide skin tension (a softer sound due to the lower tension produced on conventional kit drums).
David displayed a bewildering array of acoustic guitars on his stage racks. Some were continuously hollow from the body right throughout the neck, rather than hollow-bodied with a neck joined later. These were Canopus guitars, copies of the famous African Weissenborn guitars of the 1930's. Ben Harper has re-established these guitars into popularity so it was interesting to learn that David was Ben's first guitar teacher (Ben was then 7). He is a genuinely multi-instrumentalist and provides a unique and eclectic concert experience. He has long championed the concept of world music, and the electro-acoustic performance effortlessly combined American folk, blues, and bluegrass traditions with elements from African, Arabic, Asian, Celtic, Malagasy, and Turkish musical sources. The range of stringed instruments (12 string through to 7-string, 6-string and 5-string) that he uses in his shows include the Weissenborn, and Kona Hawaiian lap steel guitar, Turkish saz and chumbus, Middle Eastern oud, and Irish bouzouki. Though equally adept at them, we didn't see him play zither, lap steel guitar, violin, dulcimer, dobro, or mandolin. Onstage, "Mr. Dave's" twisted sense of humour and outlandish celebration of polyester fashion combined with his virtuosity to provide a rare evening of joyous and exceptional fun (2 hours 20 minutes worth to be exact). Their new album is minimalistically entitled Twango Bango Deluxe. It's great - 75 minutes of inspired good times (Hoodangas take note!).
The support act was an increasingly popular local bluegrass band known as Uncle Bill. A stringed quartet (guitar, banjo, double bass, mandolin) they sing in attractive harmony, and play competently enough. Their claim to infamy rests with their inclination to convert any tune you can think of into a bluegrass tune. As you can imagine, you win some - you lose some. I thought "Substitute" from The Who didn't quite make it, but then nor probably would the 1812 Overture. They were good foot-tappin' fun, but a whole evening of it would probably wear the concept a little thin.
Wednesday saw us return to The Conti to catch R.L.Burnside, an old blues performer recently "discovered" and made popular through his collaboration with the very loud young blues/rock/punk band The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. RL was preceded by an execrable rock quartet of guitar, bass, drums and violin - they didn't give their name a gesture I thought the only tasteful thing they did. Screaming into the mike, incessant distorted tuneless guitar, screechy violin, lots of posturing - they seemed to play for hours. I have a theory that any player whose guitar is so low slung that it extends to below the knee can be summarily dismissed as a wannabe. The rule had 100% applicability this night, though a sample size of two (guitarist, bassist) restricts the confidence that one can have in this theory as yet.
A full house greeted RL Burnside, accompanied by his grandson on drums and a white guitarist whose name I forget. He is about 75 but appears spritely in his guitar playing and singing (sitting down). It was only when he arose to hobble off the stage that his age became apparent. Listening to his songs - most of which are pretty similar, and his playing which is competent but predictable, certainly not exciting - reminds one that the blues at its roots is pretty simple stuff. Unfortunately, grandson (the drummer) has not yet realised that the drums are supposed to support the music not force it to surrender under heavy artillery attack. His drumming was great - very athletic, never crossing the time - but oh! the loudness of it. There were guitar solos from whatsisname that I couldn't hear, and since he didn't sing he is presumably an adept, and expects to earn his keep with a bit of wizardry. Mercifully, RL managed to shoo the hangers on offstage for a while and settled into some serious solo blues - and it was riveting - alternately stark and bitter, then joyous - and all presented simply. Ditch the nursemaids, RL!
Coming Up: Dr John (and Keb Mo) at The Palais 10/4
The Age Tuesday 23 February 1999
1. Heathcote Winery Viognier You'll have to be quick ('98 to be released in May for $34) but you won't be disappointed in the intense bouquet of spring flowers and generous flavors.
2. Mitchelton Viognier-Roussanne Don Lewis likes the broader, mouth-filling qualities of barrel-fermented roussanne together with the viscosity and bouquet of viognier. ('96 at cellar door and restaurants, $25).
3. Chateau Tahbilk Marsanne In a world of change, Chateau Tahbilk marsanne remains a constant: unwooded, honeysuckle fruitiness, delicate with an acidic grip that aids ageing ('98 readily available, around $13).
4. Clonakilla Shiraz You could get high just breathing in the heady, spicy, shiraz perfume. Addiction will surely follow with keen peppery-ness and subtle French oak (current '97 is hard to find, $30).
5. Charles Melton Nine Popes Charlie looks for savory characters when making this cult wine. It's a definite turn-on but the real allure is the silky smoothness on the palate. Like satin to the touch. ('97 vintage due out in March, $33). Others to watch for: Heggies viognier; Elgee Park viognier; Yeringberg marsanne/ roussanne; Chateau Tahbilk viognier; Penfolds Old Vine shiraz/mourvedre/shiraz; Yarra Yering Dry Red No. 2; Bannockburn shiraz; Cape Mentelle shiraz; Mitchell The Growers grenache.