Melbournians love a good trend, love a pop-up and go ga-ga for the outdoors in spring after surviving the city’s bleak winter.
The Yarra River which provides the city’s north/south divide is already fringed by Arbory Bar, a long deck stretching along the river beside Flinders Street Station, Riverland at water level and Ponyfish Island, the bar in the middle of the river, anchored by the creatively-named Southbank Pedestrian Bridge.
Even in the deepest, darkest days of winter, these three bars are almost always full. Now that spring has rolled around, the clever folks at Arbory have answered Melbourne’s cry for more!
Enter, Arbory Afloat.
The bar’s short stay coincides with the Spring Racing Carnival, Melbourne’s biggest celebration of the year. The biggest event by far is “the race that stops the nation”, Melbourne cup. However, Oaks Day, Derby Day and Stakes Day are all big-ticket events, with more eyes on the fashion on the field than on the horse races themselves. Derby Day was on Sunday, and so the bar was filled with fashionable fillies in their best black & white racing outfits – Derby Day’s dress code. I wasn’t attending the races, so I inadvertently stood out like a sore thumb in a peach summer dress.
It was shaded by crisp white umbrellas and a handful of plane trees, on the city side. The bar area and seating was cheap but chic, with a clean Scandinavian design with a subtle nautical flair. The pontoon was dotted with blonde wooden bar stools with with turquoise legs and benches were covered with brightly patterned cushions. We sat at the cork-covered bar, which had a bright white bar top, which made it all feel very summery. It felt a little like being on a boat, but better – no seasickness here, as the pontoon was rock solid.
I was excited for Arbory Afloat, but I was a little apprehensive that it would be a victim of its own success. Outdoor bars are insanely popular in warm weather, and I expected us to be squished in like a tin of sardines.
Fortunately, the only seafood on Arbory Afloat came on a platter of ice. While we did have to do a loop until we found some spare stools at a table of two, it was not over-crowded. Recently in New York, I found the over-crowded atmosphere a real downer at Employees Only, and appreciated the strict capacity limit at Death & Co. Two bars with a similar style, yet a totally different atmosphere thanks to a strict doorman. I try to schedule a sneaky cider at Ponyfish Island for off-peak hours. I’m Australian, I like my personal space.
This was not a problem at Arbory Afloat. I don’t know if they were limiting the capacity, but it was always full yet never over-crowded. This is the holy grail for a successful Sunday session – buzzing but not over-crowded.
Food & Wine
The wine list was short and sweet. I enjoyed an Australian sparkling, although it was incorrectly listed as a Champagne. My favourite was a Spanish rose from the rioja reason, which was perfect for drinking on its own. I love Spanish, raspberry-coloured roses, and find them so much more suitable for drinking on their own than the salmon-coloured roses from Provence, which are maybe better suited to pairing with food.
I did notice that “Reims”, the capital of the Champagne region, was mis-spelled as Remis throughout the menu (not a typo, but at least they were consistent?).
We had salmon at home waiting to be cooked for dinner, so we didn’t stay to eat. I’m hoping the weather this weekend is nice so we can return, and share an oyster platter or try a lobster roll.
Arbory Afloat closes at the end of this weekend. I’m hoping that like Ponyfish Island, which also started as a pop-up, that the floating bar will be here to stay.
Have you been to Arbory Afloat, or other floating bars? Would you?
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