The Melbourne Pub Group puts a razzle-dazzle spin on the Newmarket basement
Cellar Bar, in the bowels of Newmarket Hotel, is a cocktail-come-cabaret joint giving Red Bennies a run for their money and Melbourne drinkers a place to burn their cash with wild abandon.
Brought to you by the Melbourne Pub Group mob (the Prince, Albert Park Hotel) this is an old world boozing parlour with serious food on the cards. Chef Paul Wilson has created a four-, six- or eight-course tricked up Cal-Mex degustation, and we’re coming back for that once systems are settled, but for now, we’re all about bunkering down in a red velvet booth with hangar steak tacos from the bar menu, listening to Ella Fitzgerald, and drinking one too. The Ella, by the by, is a highball of tequila, lifted with ginger, lime, agave and coriander, and it’s a good idea – it’s the most virtuous you’ll feel in this bar where it seems wasteful to be not having an affair or plotting a hit.
The room’s got a brilliant boys-club feel with its wooden panels and red Persian carpets. There are bowties, waistcoats and ice buckets galore and everything is festooned with strings of gold beads, from light fittings to dancers. We’re ringside for an enthusiastically performed - if not received - burlesque routine, but surprise schedules mean you could get anything from some vaudeville comedy to a pianist courtesy of talent wrangler Si Jay Gould.
Bring some coin. Starting soon, booths will incur a minimum spend and even now you can expect to cough up $50 for truffle pizza and $20 for cocktails. Fair enough, since they come with the razzle-dazzle, although better ice would help take a rum Old Fashioned and the unusual Acido (a margarita – they’re tequila fiends here – made with peppery cactus syrup) from decent to delicious. But why not throw down for Champagne? They have 27 bottles of French fizz and while you may not want to wake up with a docket for the $1100 ’97 Salon clasped in your fist, Laurent-Perrier for $105 is worth it for the sheer glam of demanding the house's cheapest bottle of pop. The non-effervescent gear is just as arresting, but a warning, the cheapest bottles aren’t necessarily the best value. A little more cash for say, a Rioja will get you a far better bottle.
This is a full throttle drinking and dining experience. Go early, spend big, and live like a legend, if just for one pay-day.