Less Than Zero
Commercial Rd South Yarra has certainly transformed from the gay hub it was during the 1990s and early noughties. The street used to be Melbourne’s infamous gay village with gay bars, clubs and clothing stores dotted along both sides of the 300-metre strip.
But the South-side gay scene died as Melbourne’s resident gay community moved north and gay and non-gay pubs and clubs assimilated. We see more gay-friendly venues these days and less of the division of the former era so in general there are less gay venues than in the hay day.
For about five years Commercial Road died after it lost its gay identity. Then new bars began to take up residence in the epochal old addresses of the gay yesteryear. Now a revival is taking place just off Melbourne’s iconic Chapel Street with a new generation of cool kids.
Step Aside, Gen-Y’s Arrived
One of those bars is Less Than Zero. Opened by a young, savvy team of four guys – John Ryan, Simon Henderson, Anthony Cannan and Jeremy Koadlow – and joined by their Venue Manager Jack Gibson, the bar has brought something very different to the area.
Chatting to the guys it was clear to me that they have something special. It’s a gun team, balanced in terms of its skills and personalities. They each contribute value through their unique skill-sets; and besides the sense of mate-ship and respect for one another, their seriousness, commitment and ambition shine through.
The ethos, as it was explained to me, is about “quality time, quality people, and quality ingredients”. The guys aimed to create a community centred venue with an open attitude. It’s about fun and friendship, creating a private house party vibe and familiar hangout.
A Labour of Love
You can tell that the guys have poured their hearts and souls into creating their perfect space. Gathering recycled timber and spare materials from anywhere and everywhere – palates, old floorboards and garages, the guys hand built much of what you see. Even the leather-bound cocktail menus were made by hand.
The brick-a-brac adorning the top of the bar is donated from their personal collections. A friend’s mural on the wall, the motorbike in courtyard and the street posters give it an edginess and street style.
And the flowers add a finishing touch.
The warm incandescent lighting, rich colours of the timber and exposed brick, the pool table upstairs, the sense of humour and all the personalised details make the bar feel homey and inviting.
Every Friday and Saturday night, you’ll find live DJs – hip-hop Fridays and electronica Saturdays. The rest of the week, there’s a mix of alternative, indie and other sounds to suit their varying tastes in tunes. And like any good house party the decks are open for friends to pop in and jump on.
Drinks & Eats
Just by looking at the back bar you can tell the guys take their spirits offering seriously. The bar uses premium spirits and has a specialised Japanese whisky selection, including rare whiskies sourced from home collections and through personal importers. Vintages like the 21 y.o. Hibiki and 18 y.o. Yamazaki are super rare indeed.
The drinks menu is playful with a number of fun twists on familiar classics. They source fresh ingredients locally from Prahran Markets a few doors down and make syrups and infusions in-house. It means that their menu is seasonal and constantly kept fresh by what is available at the markets.
To compliment the drinks, Hammer & Tong has set up shop to serve tasty bar treats from the Less Than Zero kitchen.
Any wonder the place has become a second home for the guys and the bar’s army of regulars.
Named after the artist that sang the famous song ‘Put the lime in the coconut’, the Harry Nilson is sweet and tropical with a strong coconut aroma from the toasted coconut agave rim. Mixed with 1800 Coconut Tequila, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, house made Kafir Lime Sugar Syrup and Lime Juice.
A tasty variation on the gin and tonic, so super refreshing. The sweetened cucumber foam on the Hendricks Float is genius. Be careful, it goes down a little too well. Mixed with Hendricks, Lillet Blanc, Lemon and Sugar.
A twist on the classic dark & stormy, the Trinidad Flex tastes like rum & raisin ice cream. Mixed with Plantation Dark Rum, Cointreau Noir Cognac Liqueur, Maraschino, Ginger Syrup, Chocolate Bitters, Cherry Bitters and Muddled Raisins.
Open: 5 pm – 3 am Mon to Sat. Sun 3 pm – 1 am
153 Commercial Road, South Yarra
“Close friends make the music sound sweeter, the wine taste richer, the laughter ring louder.”
– Judith Viorst