Strange Wolf is the second child of the Grace Darling four: Mace Williams, Cath Fletcher, Maurice Manno and Dan Zeidan, who describe themselves as “bar buccaneering folk.” Their youthful sensibilities and aesthetics saw the transformation of the Grace from a dirty corner pub into a multi-level, multi-purpose hipster haven. At Strange Wolf they have applied the same formula, transforming the previously kitsch Velcro mess of the Cabana Club (formerly Traders Bar) with the injection of paint, plants and wooden chandeliers.
The basement bar is actually easy to find, although it is undoubtedly Melbourne with its fumy alleyway entrance. Pass through the unmarked door and descend to the basement where you will be greeted by the eye popping white fluorescent sign of 'Strange Wolf'.
On the weekend, trading hours see the doors open at 8pm and stay open till 3am, and for $10 you get a three-band line-up and a bartender sporting long, rock-god styled hair. During the week, Strange Wolf's 5pm opening time and Paris-end location sees it as an after work venue for the suit and tie crowd. Their drinks list is written for ease of the staff and drinker, with tasting notes preceding each wine. All are by the glass, and most run to the tune of $10 or less, with the exception of the Garagiste Chardonnay at $80 a bottle – it sits as an outlier on the student-friendly list. The cocktails are a little steeper, with prices not dissimilar to those at Bar Americano or Cutler & Co. A Negroni of equal parts of gin, Campari and vermouth will set you back $18 here. We assume the extra few dollars are for their touch of flare: 'burnt orange peel' as a garnish. The Strange Mule, $12, an interpretation of the classic vodka, ginger beer, mint and lime Mule mix introduces chilli-infused vodka and passionfruit. The flavours don't quite gel in this ‘tail and it leaves us wondering whether infused vodkas should have been left in the 90s. Beers, on the other hand, are pretty well valued, with the Stone & Wood lager, Hawthorn pilsner and Moritz lager setting you back a fair enough $8.50 each.
Strange Wolf is designed to draw in the tried and true crowd who frequent the Grace Darling, but the atmosphere is scaled up a few notches to sit comfortably with the office workers during the week. Weekend operation is skewed towards the party crowd who will take advantage of their 3am license, live bands and an underground space that looks like it could lend itself to a few lock-ins here and there.