The city of Melbourne offers countless unique events. From pop-up bars to festivals, it’s a full time job keeping up with what’s on. This is the first in a new series of monthly blogs that will feature what a month in the life of Steph Dobson looks like in Melbourne. Hopefully this will give you a small taste of why this amazing place holds the title of the world’s most livable city for the seventh year in a row!
The Stoneleigh Project
Friday, November 3
Have you ever heard of an interactive wine tasting experience? I certainly haven’t. That’s the best way to describe The Stoneleigh Project. Since this New Zealand vineyard does not have a cellar door, they host pop-up events to promote their product. They transformed an empty warehouse in the CBD to demonstrate the wine making process in an art exhibit meets wine tasting type of evening. While sipping on their sauvignon blanc, we walked through a faux riverbank lined with pebbles. The lighting shimmered to mimic the motion of water all the while reiterating the importance of water within the wine making process. In the second room, we were greeted with a taste of their smoky chardonnay where we got to play with mirrors under bright lights to resemble the significance of the sun’s role. The last instillation imitated the fermentation process. Floating bubbles filled the room while we enjoyed a sample of pinot noir. When we finished our complimentary wine tasting, a temporary bar waited for us with a menu featuring a more extensive selection of Stoneleigh’s wines. Delicious wine and a creative demonstration made for a great start to another memorable date night with Anthony.
Chicken Nugget Festival
Saturday, November 11
Not too far away from the CBD is Welcome to Thornbury, Melbourne’s first permanent bar and food truck park. They are home to one of the largest beer gardens in the area and host a variety of themed nights. Today Anthony and I went for their chicken nugget festival with our close friends, Vinny and Eliza. About half a dozen food trucks shared their spin on chicken nuggets; spicy chicken nuggets, chicken nuggets on nachos, chicken nuggets in tacos, Asian style chicken nuggets and even a chicken nugget donut. Yes, you read that correctly: a chicken nugget donut lovingly named the “do-nug.” What more could you want from your Saturday evening than a fried piece of chicken with a Thai curry sauce, shredded mozzarella cheese and a small hole cut out of the middle?
Half Moon Bay
Monday, November 13
It was the first stunningly gorgeous day of the season, so Eliza and I made plans to go to the beach at Half Moon Bay, about a half an hour drive south east of the city. We spent the day lounging in the sun (utterly coated in SPF 50) next to blue water and unique golden rock formations. We found ourselves in a secluded cove where we could spot two colorful beach huts to our left. With the Melbourne skyline in the distance to our left, it’s no wonder why this picturesque backdrop attracts the number of partying backpackers that it does. Even though it’s only about a 2km walk from the nearest train station, the steep descent down the rocky beach cliffs with signs warning of snake activity in warm weather certainly does not make this the easiest beach to get to from the city. However, Half Moon Bay is miles more beautiful than the local St. Kilda beaches and more than worth the effort to find.
Tuesday, November 14
A friend of mine told me about Laneway Learning, a local not for profit organization that teaches “cheap, fun classes in anything and everything.” I signed up for their newsletter, and before I was able to attend a class, I expressed interest in getting involved and volunteering with them. Tucked away down a quiet alleyway in the city, I found a cozy workshop space large enough to host about 20 people interested in the night’s topic. Tonight I helped run a Spanish tapas class. There was plenty to do between welcoming guests, assisting the instructor, passing around glasses of sangria and lending a hand with food preparation. It was a fun evening working with the other volunteers and getting to sit in on learning about the background of Spanish tapas. In the future, I hope to commit to working with them fortnightly and slowly gain some recreational knowledge on topics like filmmaking on your mobile phone, learning Michael Jackson’s Thriller dance or the art of sword fighting.
Friday, November 17
Throughout the summer, the planetarium at Scienceworks hosts a planetarium night every Friday for those 18 and up. Anthony and I got to enjoy an adult beverage and nerd out to their show “Capturing the Cosmos.” I really enjoyed the second part of the presentation “What’s in the sky tonight.” Our evening’s guide was able to transform the planetarium into a live preview of what the Melbourne sky will look like in the upcoming hours. Since the southern hemisphere looks opposite to that of the northern hemisphere’s, I found it very interesting to learn about this region’s constellations. We even learned that if you are able to spot the Southern Cross constellation in the sky, it’s an organic way to tell which direction is south and navigate your way from there.
Saturday, November 18
The Mornington Peninsula is home to a number of wineries and breweries, and the first ever Vinehop Festival took winery hopping to a whole new level. Participating venues welcomed festival goers with live music, food trucks and of course, free wine tastings. A group of 24 of us hired a private bus and ventured an hour and a half south of the Melbourne CBD before making it to Baillieu, our first stop of the day. Since their cellar door is normally closed to the public, it was a real treat to visit. For a boutique winery, their selection was exceptionally delicious and their pinot noir is one of the nicest I have ever had. It was great to bask in the early summer sun, catch up with friends who I hadn’t properly spent time with in months and feast on smoked cheddar cheese and pretzel necklaces. We enjoyed a leisurely hour and a half at Baillieu before heading to Blue Range Estate. The panoramic view of their green vineyard, backed by the blue waters of Port Phillip Bay floored all of us. Afterwards, we joined the crowds at Red Hill Estate for a lively party next to the bay. It was a great final spot to picnic and enjoy the live bands. Before heading back to the city, we stopped at the Mornington Brewery for one more cheeky bevvy. For the premier Vinehop festival, we collectively couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day between the weather, the wine and a wonderful group of friends.
Night Noodle Markets and Arbory Afloat
Wednesday, November 22
Melbourne experienced a very early and very hot heat wave long before the official first day of summer, December 1. One steamy night, Anthony and I spent the evening at one of the largest open air food festivals in the area. The Night Noodle Markets returned this year, taking over the Birrarung Marr along the Yarra River. Over 30 Asian inspired food stalls sprawled next to the CBD serving up innovative dishes like the “KFC Cheese Puffle,” a cone-shaped waffle stuffed with Korean fried chicken, sushi fries from the local favorite restaurant Mr. Miyagi, and the popular original Korean potato twist on a stick, just to name a few. We wandered around the bustling grounds and enjoyed Asian style tacos and loaded fries with unique toppings like chili chicken, kimchi and Japanese mayo. My personal favorite was the old school trifecta bao sandwiches with braised pork belly, fried chicken and peking duck from Cloud Thief. I had never tried bao before. It is a type of steam filled bun which is very white in appearance and quite doughy, similar to the consistency of a dumpling. We also enjoyed the beer bars, pop-up cellar door and Pimm’s Gardens. Made with the English liquor Pimm’s and lemonade or a lemon lime soda, and topped with fresh strawberries, mint, orange and cucumber, a Pimm’s cup is a true symbol of Melbourne summer.
On our way home, we stopped to visit the new trendy watering hole, Arbory Afloat. The established Arbory bar and eatery overlooks the Yarra River and this year they made the return of their floating pop-up bar. We boarded a giant pontoon large enough to hold over 400 guests complete with two bars, a kitchen and bathrooms. The slight sway on the river and the lights from the skyline created an elegant atmosphere for a night cap. We look forward to returning again this summer and spending the afternoon in the sun there with our friends.
Friday, November 24
One of the fun things about being the only American within our circle of friends is that I get to share my country’s traditions with them; like Thanksgiving. Since none of my friends had ever celebrated Thanksgiving before, they eagerly took to the notion of getting together for a Friendsgiving. My good friend Anna volunteered to help me organize everything and together we tackled the massive feat of cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 14 mouths. Since turkeys are not native to Australia, our biggest challenge was finding a turkey this far out from Christmas. Luckily, my regular produce man at the Queen Vic markets was able to sell me a 6.7kg (nearly 15 pounds) pre-thawed turkey for $100AUD (about $75USD). We encountered a few minor road bumps in our grocery shopping, but nothing that we couldn’t salvage. Who knew that it’s impossible to find fresh cranberries in Australia and that the nearest place to buy a pumpkin pie would be Los Angeles? Regardless, considering that neither Anna nor I knew what we were getting ourselves into, like having to remove a raw turkey neck from the cavity, I am pleased to say that all of us were properly fed and nobody left hungry! Anna and I set the bar pretty high for our first annual Friendsgiving, and we all very much look forward to the next.
Jack Daniels Pop-up Bar
Sunday, November 26
Anthony and I rounded out a busy November with a Sunday Funday drink at the Jack Daniel’s Barrel House in Southbank. For 17 days only, a pop-up bar about the size of a couple shipping containers celebrated this Tennessee whiskey. It was a perfectly fitting place to enjoy a cocktail given our American themed holiday weekend.