Melbourne’s best speakeasy bars and hidden bars

bartender making cocktails at Nick & Nora's

Danny Baggs

Posted November 07, 2022

Do you know what a speakeasy is? Learn about Melbourne’s best speakeasy and hidden bars, and the history behind the term.

Whether you’re into sweet or sour cocktails, Melbourne’s bar scene has a lot to offer. Many of its bars, from the CBD to the suburbs, have adopted a ‘speakeasy’ aesthetic in recent years. Read on to find out how a modern speakeasy bar compares to a Prohibition speakeasy, and where to find Melbourne’s very best speakeasy and hidden bars.

What is a speakeasy bar?

The speakeasy was a secret, hidden bar illegally selling alcohol during America’s 1920-1933 Prohibition era, when alcohol was outlawed across the United States. Many Americans found ways to keep drinking: bribing pharmacists for ‘medicinal’ whiskey prescriptions, creating their own alcohol privately at night (moonshine), employing bootleggers to smuggle alcohol into the country, or going to speakeasy bars for a tipple.

Speakeasies may have gained their name from how their patrons had to quietly speak a password to be admitted to the unlicensed bar. They helped give rise to organised crime, dating without parental supervision, table service, jazz bands...and cocktails. Cocktails exploded in popularity at speakeasy bars as bartenders would combine the low-quality alcohol sold to speakeasies by bootleggers with mixers like soft drinks, fruit juices, sugar, herbs and other flavourings to hide the poor taste of the alcohol. Notorious bootlegger Al Capone’s favourite cocktail, for example, was purported to be the Southside Fizz.

Modern-day speakeasy bars in Melbourne and around the world mimic the secrecy and time period of the old Prohibition-era speakeasies with hidden entrances, minimal (or no) signage, dim lighting, 1920s-30s jazz music, and elaborate cocktail menus.


two fancy cocktails on a bar

Modern speakeasies often feature elaborate cocktails. Image: Getty


Best speakeasy and hidden bars in Melbourne


Eau de Vie

Eau de Vie describes itself as “a bar straight out of 1920s Prohibition America”, and it couldn’t be more right. Finding this intimate cocktail bar is hard for newcomers, who need to walk down dingy Malthouse Lane and go through an unmarked door. Inside, understated 1920s-30s music plays with flickering candlelight and gas lamp-like lighting, showing off the plethora of eclectic antiques, private booths and low banquettes. But it isn’t all traditional here: Eau de Vie bartenders and servers have a flair for the dramatic, bringing your cocktails smoking, flaming, bubbling, or served in strangely beautiful structures.

It’s fitting, then, that the cocktail menu at Eau de Vie is inspired by the theatres of the world. You can find cocktail classics with a twist on the Shakespeare pages; Italian amaros and alpine herbs at the Opera section; Asian-inspired ingredients like lapsang souchong at Shadow Play; French absinthe, cognac and liqueurs at the Burlesque; South American hibiscus, coconut and more at Carnaval; and strong Americas tequila, bourbon and rum at Vaudeville. Eau de Ville’s Banderillero is a particularly unique tequila drink, served smoking in a horn with chorizo-infused mezcal, habanero bitters and other complex ingredients. You can also order a tasty selection of canapes to accompany your drinks, from freshly shucked oysters to charcuterie boards.

Eau de Vie is perfect for group events too, with cocktail-making masterclasses, cocktail degustation experiences, and a secret Whiskey Room where you can enjoy special whiskey tastings.

1 Malthouse Lane, Melbourne

big plate of food such as bread and charcuterie, along with a martini and whisky in a snifter

Eau de Vie offers delectable bites along with daring cocktails. Image: Eau de Vie.


The Attic at Black Pearl 

The Black Pearl has been a magnificent Fitzroy cocktail institution for nearly 20 years – but not everyone knows about its second, smaller bar upstairs called The Attic. Knock on the closed door on Black Pearl’s first floor to gain admittance to The Attic, where you’ll be greeted with table service amidst décor inspired by America’s Deep South.

Sit up at the bar stools to watch the talented Attic bartenders at work. Black Pearl is a regular award-winner on the international bar stage, so some of Melbourne's best mixologists vie to pour your drinks here. There are several house creation cocktails to choose from: perfect for those overwhelmed by Black Pearl’s longlist of drinks.

While Black Pearl is walk-in only, you’ll generally need a reservation to claim a spot at The Attic, which can get packed early.

304 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy


Black Pearl bar

If you can't get in to The Attic, the downstairs Black Pearl bar is just as nice. Image: Black Pearl.


Nick & Nora's 

Nick & Nora’s is a glamorous, high-brow cocktail and champagne bar themed to the crime novel The Thin Man, set during the final days of Prohibition in New York City. Nick and Nora Charles are the main characters in The Thin Man: a young, wealthy socialite couple who investigate a murder with lots of witty banter and alcohol.

You could almost imagine you’re at one of the socialites’ lavish parties at Nick & Nora’s, with jazzy music, art deco furnishing with golden highlights, old radio plays broadcast in the bougie bathrooms, and a canape menu boasting caviar, oysters, cheeses, meats and more. Best of all is the decadent cocktail menu, with taste profiles themed to a classic detective story archetypes like the Hardboiled Detective (stiff tipples made with rugged liqueurs like whiskey), the Snitch (filled with complex drinks for sours/bitters fans) and the Hollywood Starlet (bubbly, champagne-fuelled cocktails).

But first you’ll have to find the bar! Head to the corner of Little Collins and Exhibition Street, then walk down Little Collins until you turn reach the Benson Walk laneway. Blink and you’ll miss Nick & Nora's big glass door, so keep your eyes peeled for a small street sign emblazoned with ‘Champagne and Cocktails’.

80 Collins Street via 11 Benson Walk, Melbourne


people sitting at booths at Nick & Nora's

Nick & Nora's is hard to find but well worth the trip. Image: Visit Victoria.


Berlin Bar 

The divide between communism and capitalism rages on at Melbourne’s Berlin Bar. Its founder Rene De La Soyo (1965-2021) was born under the dictator General Tito’s rule and migrated to Melbourne after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which symbolised the end of the Soviet regime. In 2009, Rene turned his apartment into Berlin Bar: a hidden cocktail bar that replicates the stark divide between the Cold War-era Communist East Berlin and Capitalist West Berlin. The East Side bunker is dark, grunge and filled with communist propaganda, while the West Side salon is an opulent capitalist’s dream.

Luckily, you can access the same beautiful cocktails on either side. The 16-strong cocktail menu is currently based off the Space Race, featuring characters from Laika to Valentina Tereshkova. The Sputnik is a favourite with citrus fans, while those with a sweet tooth will hanker after the caramel popcorn-infused Buzz Aldrin. You can also book bourbon, whisky, rum, mezcal or tequila flights.

16 Corrs Lane, Melbourne


people sitting at Berlin Bar

Berlin Bar in Melbourne is split into two sections: Communist East and Capitalist West. Image: Visit Victoria.


Lay Low Bar

Lay Low is an incredible cocktail and Greek street eats bar hidden in the heart of Seddon. This bar was made by locals for locals with the expertise you’d expect to find on the high streets of Melbourne’s CBD. You’ll have to delve down a dark, narrow corridor off Buckley Street to enter Lay Low, but inside, the bar feels high-end and welcoming thanks to the warm, dim lighting, spacious layout and polished concrete floor.

Lay Low’s masterful cocktail menu was crafted by Oscar Eastman from Eau de Vie, and features local and seasonal spirits and beers, along with herbs and mixers from the nearby Footscray Market. You’ll find remastered classics like the Espresso Martini or Umami Issues (Bloody Mary with a twist) proudly served alongside truly unique blends. A Currant Affair showcases redcurrant liqueur, apricot brandy and peach bitters, while the Sgroppino Mexicano blends mezcal, sorbet, prosecco, citrus and salt into a creation that smells as good as it tastes. You can also find a selection of boilermakers (whiskey and beer pairings), mocktails, and a respectable beer and wine list.

Rear of 93 Buckley Street, Seddon


Lay Low bartender making a cocktail

Grab a remastered classic cocktail in the heart of Seddon at Lay Low. Image: Lay Low.


Beneath Driver Lane 

Beneath Driver Lane is a whisky and blues speakeasy located (as you may guess) beneath Melbourne’s Driver Lane, just off Little Bourke St. The jazzy cocktail bar offers an extensive cocktail list and French bistro-style bar food in a truly moody atmosphere: think exposed brick, soft candlelight and leather menus. Entering this underground bar is like stepping into a Parisian, San Fransiscan or New Orlean Prohibition basement. It’s an impressive turnaround from the space’s first life as the General Post Office’s Money Order Office.

At Beneath Driver Lane, the cocktail menu remakes classic cocktails with a sharp, modern twist. Take Clean Shave, a gin-based spicy margarita with a cooling cucumber effect; or Lord Lamington, which combines Irish whisky and a lamington in a glass. You can also enjoy a range of boilermakers, wines and whisky flights. In fact, Beneath Driver Lane has just launched a whisky club called the Basement Barrel Society if you’d like to learn about whisky with fellow whisky aficionados.

3 Driver Lane, Melbourne


Beneath Driver Lane bar entrance

Head underground on Driver Lane to experience a true speakeasy. Image: Beneath Driver Lane.


Wine Bar at RACV Club 

Cocktails, wine and tapas combine to serve up good times at RACV Club’s Wine Bar from Wednesday to Saturday. Both members and their guests can meet in this classy lounge, tucked away in the newly renovated RACV Club on Bourke Street. Dim lighting, rare spirits and mood music make this bar an instant classic for speakeasy fans. On occasion, you can sign up for midweek live jazz entertainment to get into the true speakeasy mood. The bartenders at Wine Bar are experts, able to whip up tasty cocktails both on- and off-menu, plus there’s even a rotating mystery drink that usually results in an all-new creation.

501 Bourke Street, Melbourne


group of three drinking around table

Enjoy fine wines, rare whisky and spirits in a speakeasy environment at Wine Bar at RACV Club.


Jungle Boy

Next time you hit Chapel Street in Windsor, grab a bowl of poutine (fries with gravy and cheese) from Boston Sub. Then duck through the eatery’s cool room door to enter its hidden tiki bar Jungle Boy. Amid the coiling ferns and relaxed lounges, Jungle Boy serves up tropical-themed cocktails like a flaming Zombie that goes down especially easy on a hot day. And if you’re hungry after all that drinking, you can pop back out to Boston Sub for a pulled pork and coleslaw-filled sub to finish off the night.

 96 Chapel Street, Windsor


Jungle Boy bartender creating a cocktail

Jungle Boy specialises in tiki-style cocktails. Image: Visit Victoria


New Gold Mountain 

New Gold Mountain is a dramatic, Asian-inspired cocktail lounge hidden behind a golden door to the right of its sister bar Double Happiness. Split over two levels – Green and Red – New Gold Mountain’s décor is halfway between moody boudoir and Old-World Shanghai ambiance.

On either level you’ll be treated to delicious cocktails made with 100% Australian spirits and ingredients like native pepperberry, homemade passionfruit liqueur, Starward whisky, or JimmyRum craft rum from the Mornington Peninsula. The Australian focus is particularly appropriate considering New Gold Mountain’s inspiration from the 1850s Victorian Gold Rush, when Melbourne’s Little Bourke Street became Chinatown, filled with restaurants, shops, boarding houses, and other (more furtive) businesses like brothels and opium dens.

Numbers are restricted at New Gold Mountain, so book ahead of time.

21 Liverpool Street, Melbourne


people drinking cocktails at New Gold Mountain

Will you visit the serene Green Level or the exciting Red Level at New Gold Mountain? Image: New Gold Mountain.


Above Board 

Want expert cocktails in an exclusive venue without the typical speakeasy fanfare? Collingwood’s Above Board, a small but award-winning cocktail bar, is perfect for you. Only 16 guests are allowed inside at any time, with no standing permitted. Instead, you must sit along the long timber bar, as if you were at a boozy dinner party headed by owner-bartender Hayden Lambert. Décor is minimal, brand names are hidden, and Lambert probably won’t make you anything off-menu. But the drinks you can get are made by a true master whose charismatic conversations are as classic as his cocktails.

You can find Above Board behind an unmarked door on Chopper Lane, just off Smith and Perry Street in Collingwood.

306 Smith Street via Chopper Lane, Collingwood


Above Board bar

Only 16 patrons can enter Above Board at any one time. Image: Above Board.


Bonus: The Understudy at 1806 (169 Exhibition Street, Melbourne)

Hidden beneath the cocktail bar 1806 on Exhibition Street is The Understudy: an eclectic cocktail den with an almost experimental menu. Enter 1806 – named after the year when the word ‘cocktail’ was first defined in print – to find a split-level red velvet retreat packed full of eager patrons and knowledgeable bartenders. 1806’s menu has recently changed to feature a house cocktail for each major music genre: pop, rock, blues, reggae, disco, punk, opera – and many more. There’s also an impressive list of cocktail classics if you’re after something more old-fashioned.

Once you've explored 1806, descend the staircase to the left of the entrance to discover The Understudy. If the 1806 music-inspired menu is the ‘A Side’, then The Understudy features the ‘B Side’. Here you’ll find new compositions made with lesser-known spirits from around the world, such as Barsol Pisco from Peru, Ceylon Arrack from Sri Lanka, Koyomi Shochu from Japan, or Aalborg Aquavit from Denmark.

The Understudy is only open on Friday and Saturday nights, so book ahead if you want to be certain of a table.


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