In a city known for its laneway bars, there’s something to be said for being the first.
It’s the mantle that The Croft Institute holds, ensuring its place as the legend that takes ‘hidden’ to a whole new level.
Located on the aptly named Croft Alley, there are no signs directing you to the entrance, and the dark and dingy laneway is actually a dead-end. However, those who persevere will be rewarded with a unique drinking experience where there are as many plastic syringes and test tubes behind the bar as there are glasses.
Once you have admired the street art and dodged the rubbish bins in the winding Chinatown laneway, you are met by a bar with a distinct 1950s science lab style adorned with curious glassware. Upstairs on level two, the theme is turned on its head; a faux-gymnasium, complete with a real turf bar and dance floor.
For the past five years the Croft Institute has been owned by Stephen and Bridget Braithwaite, both of whom have a history of working in the hospitality industry, but chose this adventure to partner together. The day-to-day operations fall to managers, Raymondo Donato and Ryan Jones.
Raymondo is the chief cocktail guru, and is more concerned with what people want than dictating from rigid menus – choosing instead to work to requests. This makes the service very personal as the cocktail creators can ‘construct’ drinks according to individual tastes.
Take a seat at one of the large booths, or find yourself a bar stool, before diving into the weird and wacky creations on offer. Most will include some type of locally sourced seasonal produce, or even native bush foods if occasion demands it and the bar team can find it.
Past concoctions have included Blood on the Amal Coast, which combined Malfy lemon gin with fresh orange juice, Joseph Carton apricot liqueur and Campari.
If you opt for a regular gin and juice or tequila sunrise, don’t be surprised if, instead of a straw, you find yourself drinking from a plastic syringe. It’s just another play on the institute theme, which also extends to shots served from those same kooky drinking devices.
However, not everything follows the beaker and Bunsen burner theme: you can still order a local boutique beer or wine, enjoyed on either level of the venue. Whatever you’re drinking, make sure you have a boogie on the dance floor – open on Friday and Saturday nights, it’s home to a raft of local DJs spinning tunes.
Stephen and Bridget Braithwaite are proud to play their part in Melbourne’s unique bar and restaurant culture. They, along with Reynaldo and Ryan, recognise the importance of keeping things a little different: “The best places in Melbourne are not the mainstream ones, but the quiet, unassuming hole-in- the-wall places that delight with their originality and disregard for following the trend.”
Whether a low key, relaxed, wind down a er work or a wind up for a big night out, The Croft Institute can look after all your drinking needs. Just make sure you check out the ‘Department of Hygiene’ – it’s sure to be a memorable experience.