Melbourne, Day 3: The Australian Hamptons and Secret Jungle Bars

Saturday, January 25, 2020

neon at Ines Wine Bar

After a long night last night eating, drinking, walking and exploring, I was thankful for a late morning start today, due to neither of us setting an alarm. It is a perfect morning for brunch, and there is a place nearby that Bill has been itching to try.

Once we get moving, we head off to Middle South East for "Instagrammable food" as Bill puts it. Most places we've encountered are like that, I'm pretty sure there isn't a place in Melbourne that has plain food. I order the eggs benedict, made with pulled pork and served on brioche, and Bill orders the kibbeh, a middle eastern lamb bake with poached eggs and avocado.

Bill's kibbeh

pulled pork eggs benedict

After properly re-energizing with some brunch and coffee, Bill soothes me with the words, "We're driving somewhere so you can sleep in the car." Music to my ears. Also music to my ears was the Triple J Hottest 100, an annual countdown for the titular radio station, which ranks listener votes to choose the best 100 indie songs from the previous year. I get to hear a lot of new music with which I am unfamiliar, and it was fun to hear Bill's excitement over songs he'd voted for.

Before leaving Melbourne, I almost get a slushie at the 7/11 but stop buy a Krispy Kreme instead. I miss junk food.

I love long drives, and so this mystery plan was nice and relaxing. I wake up near our destination, which appears to be some wealthy beachside suburb. We have arrived in Portsea, which is to Melbourne what the Hamptons is to NYC. The Mornington Peninsula is the broader area that contains it, and it's a drive out from Melbourne following the coast.

First we peek into the Mermaid Vintage Emporium, a small shop with curated vintage and modern designer clothing. Unfortunately, nothing is labeled with a price tag, and when I ask the shopkeeper, she says it's because "there's a lot of new stuff that just came in." Well, it feels like a garage sale, with me having to ask the price of anything and everything I look at, which is weird because it is all far out of my budget. Plus, one item she guessed the price as 60, then she found an actual price tag that said 30 and corrected herself, which gave me no faith in this "ask as you go" pricing system.

We then stop in the Portsea Hotel and I ask Bill if there is some sort of white dress code. He explains it was purely coincidental that over half the patrons are wearing white dresses, polo shirts, and button-ups. It is oddly a young crowd for what looks like a country club bar in a small town, but Bill explains that there aren't many bars nearby, so this is the place to be and to be seen. This explains the bouncer out front, checking IDs in the middle of the afternoon. The speakers are blaring the Hottest 100, which also may explain the young crowd.

Portsea Hotel

The decor is very, well, sea-themed, with wicker chairs and white walls and navy blue accents and anchors and rope. The people attending are like an odd mix of extras from a Gossip Girl garden party scene, dripping with classy wealth and effortless cool, while others are strangely dressed like it was 1am in a nightclub as opposed to the current 4pm in pure daylight. There are men wearing crisp blazers over cuffed khakis beside women wearing the kind of floral dress you would see at a country club bridal shower. Then there are women wearing platform heels, tight leather miniskirts and halter tops with a chain fastening them at the neck and back. It is so wildly diverse in fashion, and it makes every bit of it more entertaining. It also influences my drink choice, because I feel like it would be odd to order a cocktail here. It's more of a sparkling wine kinda place. Plus, sparkling wine is half the price of a cocktail, so there's that.

the grassy area outside the Portsea Hotel bar

We hop back in the car and do a short drive into the Point Nepean National Park. Fortunately for us, we make it in the gates just before they close them at 5pm, but you're allowed to leave at any time thereafter. The park is on land belonging to the Bunurong People, and has a gorgeous natural landscape. Bill says he wants to see the quarantine station, and with no prior knowledge of what that is or could be, I just nod my head in light confusion.

Quarantine Station

We pull up to a parking area beside the Quarantine Station. The Quarantine Station was established in 1852, and was the first stopping point for new Australians when they arrived in their new country. The defunct station now is a museum, preserving the nearly 50 buildings that were once used as hospitals, disinfecting complexes or morgues. In the mid 1900s, the area became Army barracks and a cadet school. In 1980, it was no longer used as a medical facility but continued to be used by the Army. In the 1990s, it was used to host 400 Kosovars, refugees from the Bosnian War of 1992-1995. In 1999, they were declared safe to return home. This explains why some quarantine facilities look like dormitories with carpeting and power outlets.

Pic taken through the window...I wanna EXPLORE

I like eerie and weird experiences when I travel...not sure why they all involve morgues or things resembling such. I'm disappointed that all the doors are locked (presumably because it was after 5pm) and I want to do some exploring. Just when I thought all the exploring was over, we walk back to the car and Bill points out a wallaby. A WALLABY! I've never seen a wallaby, of course, and when I see it, I think there's a fake animal in the middle of the woods, because that apparently makes more sense to me than a wallaby being in wild Australia. I try to get a picture, but after it stares at me taking my camera out, the big guy hops back into the brush and I miss him! So rude.

There's an unnamed time constraint for this evening (remember, Bill is making it all a surprise) so we have to hop in the car and make the drive back to the city. When we get back to his apartment, I'm surprised to see his roommate Katie asking if we need to push off the reservation. Oh! We're going out to dinner with Katie and Numa! I'm excited, since his roommates are quite entertaining.

We head over to Kong BBQ, an unassuming restaurant that I was surprised to see we had reservations for, since it looked to be at the level of a quick dining restaurant.

The food here is amazing. It's also owned by Lucas Restaurants, which is the same company that owns Chin Chin, where we had dinner yesterday.  There's an option for the chef's choice like we did yesterday, but today we're a little more stubborn with what we want, so we decide to order a la carte tapas to share. I am also hoping this method will prevent us from getting too much food as we did yesterday.

We order a little bit of everything, per Numa's recommendations. We get the wood grilled edamame with chilli and sea salt, then order one each of the chicken, pork, tofu, and beef buns to start. Then we move on to an order of Korean fried chicken which is absolutely amazing and crisp, served with pickles. I didn't know that I needed this fried chicken in my life, but I most certainly do. Then came the Bossam smoked wagyu brisket which was melt-in-your-mouth tender and delicious. We ordered two of the pitcher cocktails to wash it all down. I forget the names, but they were both named after anime and contained grapefruit as an essential ingredient. I was less keen on the second one, which had a fake floral taste that reminded me of an air freshener. I was also glad I tried the plum wine, which was amazingly sweet and just what I wanted my taste buds to experience.

We walk back home and make milkshakes (this was established early on, that Bill had to supply milkshakes at any hour for me, so the fridge and freezer were constantly stocked with milk and ice cream). Katie asks if our night is over, and Bill says "This is it!" I am tired, but I could gain energy from a scene change. I tell him that we should head out nearby, and he suggests the Chapel Street area, which he doesn't seem too thrilled about. I'm expecting the Aussie equivalent of Chicago's Wrigleyville or Hubbard Street River North area, based on Bill's attitude. I re-apply my makeup and we head off in an Uber.

just a sandwich shop...or is it?!

Numa suggested a place to Bill that's a secret bar. Sounds perfect! We head off to Jungle Boy, which is an unassuming sandwich shop from the street. There isn't much secrecy here, as we walk in the door and before talking, the sandwich shop guy just opens the freezer door for us. The freezer door that opens up to the cozy bar in the back, bustling with people but not too crowded to move. The bartender tells us to find a seat, and that sharing tables is common with the limited options available. The place is a long, narrow lounge with hi-tops and couches and small tables with stools. It's got a tiki theme, a giveaway from the name, and all the drinks on the menu are tropical and exciting.

We cozy up next to a couple at a table in the tiny courtyard, and a waiter comes and takes our order. My tropical rum drink is served in a Mount Gay Rum tin can overloaded with crushed ice. It is fancier than I am describing, I promise.

I wonder if people ever just get a sandwich outside at "Boston Sub." I wonder how good the reuben is.

I love this bar and cozy atmosphere, but I need an energy boost in the way of a venue change, so we walk along Chapel street, where we come upon Ines Wine Bar. Inside it's a classy joint, with smooth 60s R&B playing on the speakers, surrounded by dark mirrored walls, a long couch lining the back wall, and golden chrome lamps romantically lighting the tables with just enough of a glow to see your date sitting beside you. It feels like everyone here is European, from the patrons to the waitstaff. Neither of us are big wine drinkers, but the small bottle of prosecco costs the same as two cocktails at any other bar, and we wanna be fancy, so here we are! The waiter uncorks it and pours our glasses at the table. He leaves the bottle draped in a small linen towel in a silver bucket of crushed ice. How fancy are we?! I feel very classy right now for being cheap.

Ines Wine Bar

Bill and I enjoy this until they close the bar, so we're off to another venue. Bill comments how he's surprised to find such culture here on Chapel Street. I can't imagine going to a wine bar in Wrigleyville, so I get it.

I'm hungry, so I insist we get food. It's midnight on a Saturday and I can get food! That's something Vanuatu would never grant me. How does one follow up a cozy courtyard cocktail and a half a bottle of champagne? With kebabs under fluorescent lighting, of course.

Love me a good kebab

After a quick bite at Smith St Kebabs, we wander off to Electric Ladyland, a buzzing nightclub that doesn't have a cover charge at this hour. We mosey on up the long, carpeted staircase, to the sticky carpeted floors of upstairs, which is packed with people. It's so refreshing to see nightlife again! It's pretty quiet for a Saturday at 12:30am, and we only came here so Bill could officially say he's been in a nightclub on Chapel Street.

street art on the walk back home

We walk until we see a tram and run to catch it home. Tomorrow is a mystery overnight trip, with a train car? So I'm excited about that adventure!