Arts for All Appeal

14 February 2022


Melbourne is known for four things: food, coffee, art and of course, live music. Isabelle Oderberg explores how the local scene is unrivalled across the country, a scene that’s launched the careers of some of the biggest Australian chart-toppers of all time including Paul Kelly, Nick Cave and Vance Joy.

The city has something for every music lover, whether you want to watch a gig, buy a record or have a drink while some tunes are spinning on the decks. If music floats your boat, this list has something for you. Just be aware that many venues are operating at reduced capacities and you may need to book before your visit.


Lime Cordiale, a band dressed in leisure suits, performs on the Sidney Myer Music Bowl stage for Live at the Bowl 2021. The image is taken from above and to the side and shows the band under pink stage lighting, and a large audience in front of them dancing.


Lime Cordiale


The program at Sidney Myer Music Bowl’s Live at the Bowl this season is cracking, with acts such as Crowded House, Lime Cordiale, Flight Facilities and more taking to the open-air stage. While dancing under the stars is a must, your night, or day, doesn’t have to start or end there!

Head up towards Fitzroy and you’ll find Melbourne’s Old Bar. It has to be the truest of the city’s dives and there’s much to rely on. The first is that it’s open every day, 3pm to 3am. Always. The second is that the carpets will be so sticky you’ll think you’re gonna lose a shoe. The third is that you can have beer or spirits or nothing; they don’t have any time or interest in your fancy cocktails. And the last is that there will be live, mostly local music and if you make enough noise, a DJ spinning tunes afterwards. This is not a venue for the faint-hearted. Leave your bougie pretence at the door and get rocking.

If heading north of the CBD isn’t as attractive as rocking out by the seaside, head a short tram-ride in the other direction and check out The Espy. If there’s a music icon in Victoria that will always feature in the history books, it’s this one. But it’s a little flasher than it used to be. It now houses several upmarket bars and restaurants too. But most importantly, the Gershwin Room has been left untouched.

The Gersh, as locals know it, has hosted some of the biggest musical acts in Australia and the world. It’s a dive of a band room, the acoustics are terrible, the bar is a pretty average set up, but COME ON. It’s the GERSH! Since the 143-year old building’s re-launch in 2018, it’s even unveiled a huge mural of Paul Kelly on its side, a nod to the iconic Aussie singer who got his start playing there. More recently it hosted a once-in-a-lifetime gig by Uncle Archie Roach, singing his protest songs from the 1970s.

Eat & Drink

A dimly lit corner of the inside of Cherry Bar, containing round tables with bench and stool seating, and wooden walls with variously sized artworks hanging on them.


Cherry Bar


Cherry Bar is the ultimate underground dive and a great option for any gig afterparty. A true rock paradise, it reached international levels of stardom when Lady Gaga headed there to party on after her Melbourne concert. Turns out Lady Gaga is a bit of metalhead, as she showed when she posted pics on her Insta dancing on the bar in fishnets and, well, a bikini? While I don’t recommend that everyone who walks in the door try that on, the guy who runs Cherry, well-known local promoter James Young, a bit of an icon in his own right, would probably encourage it or even make it compulsory. Head over for late night tunes and even later night DJs. If you wanna party into the wee hours, this place has you sorted, not closing its doors until 5am on Saturday and Sunday mornings and 3am on Monday.

Another late-night dive bar option in the city is Heartbreaker, which is the rock and roll themed sister of award-winning cocktail bar The Everleigh in Fitzroy. That means it has features great drinks to keep you going until close, which is 3am on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays.

The LuWOW is a gorgeous tiki bar paradise moved from its original home in Fitzroy and into Melbourne’s CBD in late 2019 but the vibe is still exceptional. Serving up delicious cocktails (paper umbrellas definitely) and tasty treats along with some tunes, usually soul, doors swing open at 4pm, making it a great place to go before another gig or you can stick around and see what they have on the line-up.


Two people, shown from behind, stand on socially-distanced circles, looking at items within the display cabinets of the Australian Music Vault.


Australian Music Vault


If you’re keen to squeeze in some later gigs, Max Watt’s House of Music is in the absolute heart of the CBD, opposite the Melbourne Town Hall. The venue originally opened in 1940 as a cinema, but is best known as its predecessor, the Hi-Fi Bar, which during its run hosted Australian music royalty including You Am I and Powderfinger. It’s newest incarnation, launched in 2015, the venue hosts a range of live music genres and even hosts electronica and dance parties. While Watts is a great venue to see local acts, they also host quite a few visiting internationals.

A mecca for objects and stories belonging to some of the biggest names in Australian cultural history, the Australian Music Vault is a free exhibition and a must see for any music fan. From the Bon Scott’s jacket, Kylie Minogue’s dress, Chrissy Amphlett’s Tunic, Helen Reddy’s Grammy and many more treasures on display. You can also get lost in an immersive digital experience in The Amplifyer – where you can step back in time to Sunbury Music Festival, rewind the best of Countdown, explore the stars of tomorrow and more!


An aerial photo taken from the far corner of a large record store - Rocksteady Records. The are record racks around the edges of the room, and in lines in the middle, with people browsing, and a large series of front windows that let out onto the street.


Rocksteady Records


If shopping for at-home listening is what you’re after, there are two shops in Melbourne that will hit the spot. The first is the well-hidden but always well-stocked Rocksteady Records. This place has a range of vinyl, both new and second-hand. When shopping for second-hand vinyl always make sure you check the disc for scratches, but you’re unlikely to find any here. This place is for music lovers only, not people collecting based on which sleeves they think are the prettiest. There’s always great music advice on hand and some cool merchandise for sale, including branded record totes.

The other must-visit is the legendary Basement Discs, situated under the Block Arcade. Vinyl and CDs are both on offer and the shop is famous for its in-stores, with smaller local acts popping in to play a few songs and sign anything that needs signing. They’re usually at lunchtime and always free.


Go to the top