Of all the things Melbourne is known for, one of the most exciting is it’s hidden gems. The city is like a basket of secrets with little known hangouts dotted all around. From rooftops to laneways and now riverside nooks and crannies, some of the best bars are quite simply hidden from view.
Federation Square is one of the most popular attractions in the Melbourne CBD, hosting thousands of visitors a day. A labyrinth stretches out from the huge public space and seamlessly connects multiple landmarks, making it the heart and soul of the tourist precinct.
Federation Square, Flinders Street Station, Southgate, The Arts Centre, Alexander Gardens, Princes Bridge, St Paul’s Cathedral, MCG, Yarra River – all impossible to miss. But tucked in between, beside and beneath all these towering landmarks is an enchanting little place you may have missed.
Wander down the elevated promenade between the river and the square, then take a sharp turn right. All very Australiana, the eucalyptus trees and rough blue stone wall will guide your pathway to Federation Wharf, a strip of converted old vaults along the Yarra.
The heritage-listed vaults have special historical significance. Built in the late 1800’s, ferry operators, boat-builders and pleasure cruise companies once occupied them. Their façade was designed to match the adjacent Princes Bridge, the arches adding to their aesthetic appeal and the harmony you sense as you sit and ponder.
Federation Wharf has become Melbourne’s go-to place for summer with bars, restaurants, function spaces and an ice-cream stall now trading from the vaults. Open-air venues facing the water offer picturesque views east, west, up and over yonder. It’s magic on a sunny day.
Popping up in 2014, Pilgrim Bar is the fourth of Riverland Group’s five venues. With a penchant for heritage listed buildings, when the space became available, the group could not resist opening a sister venue to its iconic Riverland Bar & Cafe.
Although Pilgrim Bar is technically an outdoor venue with plenty of undercover space and table service, I couldn’t help but take in the ironic appearance of the indoor area. A sunken bar and kitchen adjoins a seating or function room, the entire space reminiscent of a galley. Sitting in the blue velvet booth looking out the arched window, you could easily be in the belly of a small ship.
Outside, timber beams create textural lines that playfully fragment the sunlight. Providing the fit people biking, running and rowing don’t make you feel guilty, the unobstructed view of Princes Walk makes it the perfect place to sit with drink in hand and watch the world go by.
There are a few things about me that you may or may not know: I’m somewhat patriotic (I mean who doesn’t love Australia, the lucky country, right?); I root for the underdog; and I appreciate intelligent, carefully considered concepts. Pilgrim Bar ticked the boxes, buying only from local producers for both their kitchen and their bar.
Selecting the best of Australian beer, wine and craft spirits is as much about quality as it is about relationships with producers. The venue has been extending these connections to consumers, hosting Master Classes and Producers’ Markets, including the hugely successful Juniperlooza, Melbourne’s first gin festival.
A sensational cocktail list, featuring all my favourite Australian distillers, made it hard for me to choose. Five cocktails later, I couldn’t find a vault – I mean, fault. All beautifully balanced and with a signature twist on any of the classics.
Plus when I spotted a bottle of my favourite Aussie rum, they even agreed to make me something off the menu. Winning.
666 Pure Vodka, Bass River Lemoncello, muddled raspberries, Capi Bitter Lemon, Mister Bitters Pink Grapefruit & Agave
Tamborine Mountain Hibiscus Liqueur, Howard Vineyard Clover Brut, Hibiscus Flower
Melbourne Gin Company Gin, rosemary syrup, pink grapefruit juice
Archie Rose Vodka, Belgrove Coffee Liqueur, Little Drippa Cold Drip Coffee
Spike’s Old Fashioned
Spike’s Old River Rum, sugar cube, Few Orange Bitters, orange zest
Sun-Thurs: 12pm to 10pm | Fri-Sat: 12pm to 12pm
Federation Wharf, 15-19 Federation Square, Melbourne
“Come quickly! I’m drinking the stars!”
– Dom Pérignon