St Kilda / Prahran
If you’ve got… $30 Presumably because they’re competing with the possibility of taking a bottle of bourbon to the beach, there are some quality low-cost options in St Kilda. One that stands out is Soul Mamas (above the sea baths). Vegetarian and extremely tasty, the food is great and about $13. The big bonus is the balcony bar and huge windows that showcase a perfect view of the sunset. Nice, but even better would be a Greyhound Hotel (1 Brighton Road) drag show, Thurs-Sat for 10 bucks. A mix of the fabulous and the horrific, it’s half camp revue and half freak show – extremely entertaining and, no matter what you’ve seen before, utterly bizarre.
If you’ve got… $50 They don’t only cook ’em on barbies, mate. Claypots (213 Barkly St) is named after the cooking technique used on all dishes at this eternally popular seafood restaurant. They stew it in a pot, inside an oven or something – who knows, but it’s freaking delicious. Clams, oysters, prawns, mussels, crayfish – all boosted with amazingly different flavours. There’s no posh dining business either. Waiters yell out to the kitchen from your table, and there’s a huge energy in the atmosphere. It’s a great place to eat out with a group.
If you’ve got… $70 As rites of passage for the Melbourne drinker go, Revolver (229 Chapel St) is a keystone monument. Being open 24 hours obviously involves it in many a mighty challenge. Can you pack a lunch and stay there all weekend? Can you show up at 10 in the morning after a good night’s sleep, a quick jog and a bowl of muesli and score a root with a pissed-up trashbag who’s been there all night? Even if you don’t, you’re bound to spot someone else who’s trying. Good music most of the time, and equal parts hotties and weirdos. It’s a magical place.
If you’ve got… $30 Other cities have one too, but the Moonlight Cinema in Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens is easily the most impressive setting for the inflatable giant screen. Unroll the picnic blanky and take in the awesome views. When the bats start to leave in thick black hordes, it means sundown is here, and the show can begin. As chilled-out or as roll around sloshed as you want to make it. The Last Laugh Comedy Club does very good value Friday night shows at the Anatheum (Collins & Swanston Sts). It’s 20 bucks to see three high profile local comics (with a free ticket for next time if you reckon you could have laughed a bit more).
If you’ve got… $50 St Jerome’s (7 Caledonian Lane) has a reputation as a good venue thanks to a lack of attitude and the guarantee of great tunes. A back alley dance floor, wedged between two high-rise buildings that keep the sky way out of reach, has a bit of a “last night on Earth” kind of vibe (if you try hard enough). Have an easy beer or dance like a freak, there’s plenty of people doing both. The Avalanches and TZU are two bands who’ve played there (as with all gigs, for under 10 bucks).
If you’ve got… $70 Dinner and a show! The perfect night out in the city, right? If you’re keen to try a top class restaurant while in Oz, you’ll get it done cheaper here than in Sydney. The Flower Drum (17 Market Lane), Gaylord’s (4 Tattersall Lane) or the Melbourne Oyster Bar (209 King St) all have longstanding reputations as among the best in the country. As for the shows, the major theatres have deals with Half-Tix (in Town Hall, Swanston & Collins Sts) – any slow-selling shows will put out a bunch of seats through these guys at half price, but you can only buy on the day and in person. Or combine dinner and a show at the Rialto Tower – Melbourne’s flatness assures you a complete view from the observation deck, and the assistance of extra gravity makes a drink go down very nicely.
Fitzroy / Collingwood
If you’ve got… $30 Five bucks for a pizza, and it doesn’t have boiled pork and plastic cheese on it. From Sunday to Thursday, Bimbo (376 Brunswick St) serves ’em up with prosciutto, gorgonzola and stuffed olives. It’s even harder to believe when you’re eating one – awesome. A great meal guaranteed, and if it’s a chilled night you’re after then the hazy DJs and couch-filled bar will provide the perfect after-dinner setting (the house-brewed Bimbo beers are also very good). A more lively chaser can be found at any number of nearby venues.
If you’ve got… $50 If you’ve been looking for someone with whom you can discuss Rolling Stones b-sides of the mid 1970s, The Tote (71 Johnston St) is where you’ll find them. The Tote is a perfectly preserved piece of the filthy, rock and roll Melbourne that, slowly but steadily, is fading away and as such attracts a large number of hopelessly devoted regulars. The bandroom’s notoriously sticky carpet has been pounded by fans of everyone from Nick Cave to Jet. They have gigs every night, ranging from five bucks to 30. The Tote also completes the holy trinity of public houses – band room, bistro and beer garden – so there’s plenty on offer for those who aren’t musically obsessed.
If you’ve got… $70 You could pop in to the Night Cat (pictured – 141 Johnston St) on the cheap, but it’s just too easy to get swept away. You’ll be making yours a martini or a raspberry schnapps before you know it, as the live swing band gets people cutting a retro rug under what must be at least 200 vintage velvet lampshades. The theme is carried out so completely that many people dress up in ’40s and ’50s glamour for the occasion. Night Cat is not a costume ball freak show though – mainly a regular bar with regular drinkers, but the music and the handful of swing fanatics make it a uniquely colourful and cheerful place.
If you’ve got… $30 The inner-city suburb of Richmond provides the perfect low-cost evening, where you can get pissed on the cheap and still enjoy a touch of class. Victoria Street is the frugal food lover’s wonderland, with terrific Asian food at ridiculous prices and almost unanimous adherence to BYO licensing. Given that you can get entrees, mains and sides at most restaurants before you even start pushing 20 bucks, a $30 budget allows you to have a nice little spend and some paper bag plonk. Victoria (311 Victoria St) and Quan 88 (straight across the road) are good tips, but try anywhere.
If you’ve got… $50 There is a great number of faithful, unpretentious, heart and soul drinkers’ pubs in Richmond, and it is certainly the great strength of the area. The Corner Hotel’s(57 Swan St) famous band room backs on to a smuttily sociable public bar. The Great Britain (447 Church St) actively encourages both drunken flirting and not giving a shit. It’s great. And that’s before you get to The Nash and The Terminus on Victoria St. Fifty at the bar of any of these pubs is a pineapple well spent.
If you’ve got… $70 What’s stopping you? The green fairy beckons from behind the bar at Der Raum (438 Church St). That big, brilliant brain of yours need no longer be restrained by the acquired burdens of rational thought and upright posture. Slam a few of these sugary shots (favoured by all geniuses of note in recent history) and you’ll be well on the way to coming up with something clever. At $10 to $180 a shot, you can take it as far as you like and in fact the range of top end spirits at this place is really quite overwhelming – over 100 bottles suspended from the roof makes for a beautiful sight. Cheers!