Best things to do in Melbourne at night: After-dark guide to city's top spots

When it comes to nocturnal fun, in Sydney the question is: what's open? But in Melbourne it's simply, where to next?

As the Harbour City's nightlife shrinks, Melbourne's grows; as Sydney's government tells the residents of the former-Sin City to be tucked in by 10pm, Melbourne's elected officials and tourist bodies actively support the Victorian capital morphing into a 24-hour playground. "What has become very clear since we began focusing on Melbourne's night culture is that in order to be a truly global city, you need a truly global nightlife," says Peter Bingeman, chief executive officer, Visit Victoria. "Whether it's for our western visitors who tend to eat early, our eastern visitors who want to eat late, or our interstate visitors who might want to stay out all night."

I have recently returned to my home of Melbourne after being raised in Sydney, late nights in my 20s were spent playing early-hour board games in legendary late-night bar Baron's or scoffing nachos in Kellett Street stalwart Dean's Cafe, surrounded by the neon hum of Kings Cross' seedier establishments. But as I watched great rock pubs like the Annandale (under former owners and music supporters, the Rule brothers) follow Newtown's The Sando into history then it was time to leave – if God had nowhere to drink what hope did I have?

The differences between the two cities were hammered home recently as a friend and I followed fellow punters out of a Something for Kate gig in 170 Russell in the CBD. Just a five-minute walk from the gig I could choose from the red glow of neo-dive bar Heartbreakers, an all-night Greek feast at Stalactites, dumplings for miles – or to disappear down the rabbit hole at the new fairytale-themed bar Storyville.

If I was leaving the Metro in Sydney, it's crickets, with the possible exception of Golden Century Chinese restaurant.

Back at our gig we decided on the glowing mushrooms of Storyville, two floors of whimsical fun, then it was off to Guy Grossi's new late-licensed wine bar Arlechin for rosé and "midnight spaghetti".

"Late-night culture is important because it gives the city a lifetime after dark," says Guy Grossi, whose Arlechin has added a late-night option to his foodie empire. "I think having late-night venues is important for a city's livelihood and the liveliness of the city, the excitement and also from a cultural point of view a sophisticated city is one that never sleeps."

Grossi says there is no one way Melbourne has got its nightlife right but a key element is the people themselves. "I just think Melburnians like to get out amongst it, we are used to different extremes of weather, hot cold and all sorts and we have become quite resilient to not letting that impede on having a good time," he says.

It is not just carousing that drives the night-time economy, the arts are also an important element of Melbourne after dark. The NGV opens late throughout summer, Melbourne Museum throws a nocturnal party on the first Friday of every month and this year White Night returns to pack Melbourne's laneways from dusk til dawn.

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White Night organiser David Atkins says that the success of White Night is down to the uniqueness of the "one night, all night" concept and its European origins (the event began in Paris) in a city that embraces the lifestyle of the Continent.

"In my view Melbourne has always been Australia's most cosmopolitan city," says Atkins. "Its diverse communities have developed and nurtured a culture of food, entertainment, experiences and culture that are more European in their traditions and origins than most other cities. European communities, especially Mediterranean ones, have always enjoyed socialising, eating and being entertained well into the evening hours and this has heavily influenced Melbourne's after-dark culture."

Here are just some of the nocturnal offerings in Melbourne this summer:

FROM DUSK…

The Provincial

Sundown means rooftop bars and the newest Melbourne offering is on the roof of the Provincial Hotel in Fitzroy. The new bar has a retro vibe, a bit like an upmarket cousin of rooftop grand dame Madame Brussels , but pub grub and craft beers are the order of the day. When it closes slink down a few doors to The Black Pearl (304 Brunswick St, Fitzroy; blackpearlbar.com.au) and its upstairs offering The Attic.

299 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy; provincialhotel.com.au

Naked for Satan

Fitzroy's favourite rooftop to watch the sun cast long shadows down Brunswick Street. Head up to the roof early to avoid a traffic jam at the lifts as punters grab a range of craft beers or dine in the restaurant and when it is finished head downstairs for plates of pintxos and house-flavoured vodka.

285 Brunswick St, Fitzroy; nakedforsatan.com.au

National Gallery of Victoria

The free NGV exhibition Triennial exhibition features works from more than 100 artists from around the world including the world premiere of Eternity-Buddha in Nirvana, a giant reclining Buddha covered in ancient Greco Roman statues. The Triennial Extra sees the NGV open until midnight until January 28 with DJs, food and dancing to go with your art.

180 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne; ngv.vic.gov.au

Melbourne Museum

Spend a night at the museum, as the Melbourne Museum puts on Nocturnal, a series of late-night events on the first Friday of every month. Sip cocktails under the skeletons of dinosaurs, visit Phar Lap after the lights go out and watch the forecourt transformed into a live-music venue.

11 Nicholson Street, Carlton; museumsvictoria.com.au

TIL DAWN…

Arlechin

A cork-covered wine cave where you can eat great food in the wee small hours and be treated like an adult, not a menace to society. Grossi's menu is the grown-up version of a kebab on the way home, comforting but classy whether it is an ox-tongue taco or the signature midnight spaghetti, a dish the chef used to make for himself when he knocked off work. Service is slick and helpful. "It's meant to be simple snacks, things that can easily be shared around and that can be put together to make a meal out of it if you are sitting around for a couple of hours paired with different types of drinks," says Grossi.

Mornane Place, Melbourne; arlechin.com.au

Storyville

If you are going to theme a bar, you have to go all out and Storyville offers a stairwell made of twisted tree roots, glowing mushrooms growing out of the walls and a packed library to support its literary theme. The same amount of whimsy is put into the drinks list, try Charlie's Winning Ticket, a Willy Wonka-sweet nightcap of 666 Butter vodka, Mozart Dark Chocolate, vanilla and lavender.

185 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne; storyvillemelbourne.com.au

Heartbreaker

With its animal skulls on the wall, red-neon lights and dirty rock soundtrack, Heartbreaker could have easily been a pastiche of dive-bar cool but there is an energy to the bar well after dark that can't be faked. Whether you are canoodling in a corner booth, making use of a makeshift dancefloor, or chowing down on a Connie's pizza to soak up the beers this is the dark knight of Melbourne drinking.

234A Russell St, Melbourne; heartbreakerbar.com.au

The Toff In Town

Sidle up to the bar at Toff for a perfectly crafted cocktail, grab a train carriage booth for Thai-inspired share plates from its restaurant Choo Choo's, or squeeze into the band room "stage side" – whether you are kicking on or winding down Toff has you covered. Open till 5am on weekends and 3am during the week you also have Cookie and Rooftop Bar in the same Curtin House complex.

252 Swanston St, Melbourne; thetoffintown.com 

Twenty Pho Seven

If a restorative bowl of beef broth is what you are after then the city's (and Australia's) first 24-hour pho restaurant will set you straight. The team from Hochi Mama Vietnamese restaurant on Liverpool Street will have a fitout that reflects Melbourne's graffiti and love of neon, and Vietnamese classics that never stop.

138 Russell Street, Melbourne; facebook.com/TwentyPhoSevenAU

Butcher's Diner

Con Christopoulos' new all-night diner on Bourke Street offers American-style late-night classics with a suitable meaty bent, like a Coney Island chilli dog, steak sandwich or cheeseburgers. Pull up a stool at the bright orange counter or head upstairs to the more upmarket dining room for one of the best, and most affordable, late-night meals.

Christopoulos says that the key to a great late night venue is simple: keep your doors open, serve quality food all night and don't discriminate. "Our premier late night venue, The Supper Club, has never had a door policy in 20 years," he says. "And it has served anything from party pies, cappuccinos, caviar and martinis to priceless rare wines; it has served taxi drivers, touring rock stars, airline staff flying in at the wee hours of the morning and everyone in between."

10 Bourke St, Melbourne; butchersdiner.com 

FIVE THINGS TO DO WHEN THE SUN IS UP

ARBORY AFLOAT

If you're in the mood for some day drinking, head down to Arbory's floating summer pop-up on the Yarra River. And keep an eye opposite Ponyfish Island for another summer pop-up, Supafish a Mexican-inspired floating barge shaped like a fish skeleton running until late February. See arbory.com.au 

QUEEN VICTORIA MARKET

Head down for some piping home American donuts, churros or some of the best smallgoods in the country. Full disclosure: the Queen Vic market also has a summer night market. See qvm.com.au 

BRIGHTON BEACH

Home of the colourful vintage bathing boxes beloved byInstagrammers and one of the quieter bay beaches. Also part of the 17-kilometre local art trail highlighting where famous Australian artists painted the coast. See bayside.vic.gov.au 

WILSONS PROMONTORY

A great summer day out is a drive to "The Prom" where you can spot emus by the roadside, wander boulder-strewn beaches, or take a day-long hike. See parkweb.vic.gov.au

MELBOURNE ZOO

The new Carnivores Trail has opened at Melbourne Zoo, highlighting the new additions to the snow leopard family, the Tassie devil and the zoo's conservations efforts all in a new zoo precinct. See zoo.org.au 

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