The Rum Diary Bar
Hunter S. Thompson, an American writer turned Gonzo journalist [a style of writing in which the author is the protagonist in a socially critical or satirical story], wrote his novel, The Rum Diary, in the late 1960s.
The book is a narrative of Thompson’s rum-soaked island life as a newspaper journalist in Puerto Rico during the 60s. Published in 1998, the story went on to become a screenplay after Thompson’s suicide.
I found it completely intriguing that a well regarded bar would be named after this book. The movie, directed by Johnny Depp, one of my all time favourite actors, who also plays the lead character in the film, divided critics and received mixed, but mostly disappointing reviews.
Pondering on the links between the bar and its namesake, I couldn’t put my finger on the connection, except of course for the reference to rum. I had to go find out.
Inspiration for The Rum Diary Bar came when owner Hamish Goonetilleke was on holiday in Cuba – arguably the rum capital of the World. He fell in love with the place; it’s vibe, the cigars, the waves and the rum.
On taking this photo of a group of teens playfully teasing the spray of the ocean as it thumped against the concrete retaining wall, he decided that he wanted to create the best rum bar Melbourne’s ever seen. And he did, starting with two rums he brought back with him from Cuba.
The Rum Diary Bar could possibly be one of the most appraised bars in Melbourne, appearing in more lists of Melbourne’s top bars, as rated by journalists and bloggers, than pirates sailing the Caribbean Sea. [Come on, I had to get at least one cheezy pirate reference in somewhere…]. It’s combination of range, service and expertise has earned the venue its reputation as Melbourne’s best rum bar time and time again.
The bar stocks almost 200 different rums and has recently extended into the production of its own uniquely spiced rum, which is distilled in Trinidad & Tobago by award winning rum brand Plantation. The Rum Diary Bar Spiced Rum is a sensational drop that customers can drink at the bar and purchase to take home. It is even popping up in the back bars of other Melbourne’s venues.
The Rum Diary Bar is a warm and cozy, unique and quirky little venue.
You’ll still find the nautical theme you’d predict of a rum bar, complete with model pirate ship, salvaged paraphernalia from ships and the sea, faded old maps, recycled timber and tin drop-pendant lights.
But you’ll also find a rabbit head cross antelope horn taxidermy mounted to the wall, along with a hall-of-fame displaying framed photos of The Rum Diary Bar’s bartending talent of past and present. I guess a little bit of man-cave never goes astray.
And you’ll find Hamish’s souvenirs from his travels – most notably the dinted and dinged tray from La Bodeguita where the mojito was invented – and some very friendly faces.
In asking what stitches the place together, I’m told that it’s the mate-ship and the old school bar vibe that attracts regular characters and their stories from the street. Remember the classic 80’s TV comedy Cheers with its catchy theme song: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name”?
So why The Rum Diary?
After struggling to make the connection between the book and the bar, I finally quizzed Hamish on the name. Turns out it’s just that Hunter S. Thompson is Hamish’s favourite author, and well then there’s the reference to rum and the geographic inspiration.
[Note to self: try not to look for a deeper meaning in everything all the time.]
With the exception of its uncreative name, this cocktail was anything but boring. A simple yet incredibly tasty cocktail, mixed with freshly squeezed green apple juice, spiced rum and fresh pressed lime juice.
Trader Vic Mai Tai
Mixed with St James Rhum Ambre, English Harbour 5 Year Old Rum, Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, fresh pressed lime juice and Orgeat syrup. Served over ice in a tiki mug with a flaming passionfruit, pineapple & maraschino cherry garnish and burnt-out cocktail umbrella. What a drink!
334 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Open 7 Days. Mon-Wed 5pm to 1am. Thurs-Sun 5pm to 3am.
“Sleep late, have fun, get wild, drink whiskey and drive fast on empty streets with nothing in mind but falling in love and not getting arrested.”
– Hunter S. Thompson