First published on 31 Jan 2011. Updated on 17 Aug 2012.
You would think what with the fanfare surrounding Sydney's annual Mardi Gras festival that the harbour city was the clear ringleader of Australia's gay scene, but Melbourne certainly gives its sibling some decent rivalry. From the rough and ready Collingwood scene to the thrills and sparkles of Commercial Road, Melbourne is everything to all gay men. Just pick your poison and get serious, because the boys here like to party hard.
In a relatively short space of time Sircuit Bar has thoroughly engrained itself on the Melbourne scene. With the frankly stylish ground floor space that's more New York than we're used to (think exposed brick walls and industrial chic) the huge central bar services boys from all sides. There are plenty of pool tables for those want to square off with one another, and a cruising maze upstairs so the winner takes all. A constantly revolving roster of theme nights means everyone has at least one reason to visit, from the leather lads and wannabe cowboys on a bucking bronco to camper drag lovers.
The traditional home of all things manly, sweaty, furry and leather clad, The Laird is not one for the faint hearted, though it's bark is definitely worse than its bite. In fact, the crowd in this VCAT-approved men only joint is probably one of the friendliest on the scene, just don't expect any Kylie tunes. An excellent beer garden out back makes for perfect blokey afternoons, while the weekend often plays host to dance parties. The real star of the show is Thursday night's strictly leather event, Spit n' Polish, complete with free buzz cuts.
Technically more of a club than a pub, the Peel does have a more relaxed front bar, and opens from 9pm. It’s also somewhat of a legend on the scene, infamous as the place you end up when things get very, very messy. Whatever your take on the Peel, the place is always crammed to the rafters, and everyone's always having a blast. Interdimensional powers transformed the layout without the joint ever seemingly having closed, and low there's now a massive courtyard so smokers can party on without feeling like a leper colony. It's huge, it stays open very, very late, and it's probably your dirty secret. You know you love it.
Richmond's premiere gay joint has been at it for many years. It's a relaxed affair with a real anyone's welcome vibe. During the week is a calmer affair, including trivia on Tuesday nights, karaoke on Wednesday nights and a cheap BBQ and raffle on Friday nights, with drag shows taking over on Saturday night. Sunday afternoons feature a giant spin and win wheel with largely booze-related bounty. It's all a bit exotic out back with palm trees and ponds, though do expect to get up close and personal with your neighbour as it’s a nice and cosy space.
The Prince is a legend of Melbourne's vibrant beachfront suburb, St Kilda. It's a funny old creature and a game of two halves - namely the straight half and the gay half. Somehow the left-hand bar got claimed by the LGBT brigade, while the pool tables and sport-playing TVs next door remain the domain of the straight blokes. Somehow it just works, and everyone mingles quite happily out front. A magical door leads through to the secreted burlesque-style gay club beyond, and Monday nights' Dollar Pots are super-gay and super cheap, even if the pots aint quite $1 anymore.
New owners have given this old stalwart of the Melbourne scene a bit of a fancy facelift. Out goes the old crusty rock bar that once co-habited peacefully, replaced with a much more glittery gay bar to match the infamous Saturday night club shenanigans. These days the cocktails are far more complex than Jack and Coke. Enjoy Wednesday drag bingo, Thursday karaoke, with the sexy and amazing Boylesque show on Fridays, and then a tad more drag with three live shows during Saturday's Classic extravaganza. They’re also experimenting with special events and themed nights. The beer's cheap, and so are the boys.
It’s taken a while to kick in, but rising from the ashes of the much-loved Xchange Hotel on Commercial Road rises DnM Bar and Nightclub. Renovated, revitalised and reworked, DnM has a front bar open from 4pm, a kitchen serving good, honest tucker, and a nightclub-cum-dance bar that is really going off these days. Of course, there’s plenty of drag, from midweek Drag Bingo and Drag for Cash, to drag shows on the weekend. Friday night, the London-inspired G.A.Y. night, and Saturday’s Bounce, an RnB-themed dance night, are the big nights, and the joint really goes off! The crowd is young, but diverse, and that’s a good thing.
Another one for the young and pretty amongst us, Heaven's Door is a fairly dinky little sequin on the glittering strip of Commercial Road that seems to have gone from strength to strength over the last few years. Good job really, as the future of the iconic Market hangs in the balance. It's a cute little space with an even cuter courtyard out back, and has an upstairs bar for those heaving weekend nights. The music is particularly loud and jumping, and everyone always seems to be having a whole lot of fun. A tiny stage regular hosts entertaining characters.
This one's a bit of a cheeky addition. Not technically a gay pub for whatever reason - and the reasons really are lost in the mists of time - Sunday afternoons got claimed by the gay hordes. Even the owners are a bit perplexed. It certainly isn't official, and you won't find it mentioned on the website, but every gay guy and gal within a 5-mile radius shows up and shows off in the sun-drenched terrace up on the roof. Get there early, because it will be thronging in no time and you'll need the best people-watching vantage point.