Down Driver Lane (just off Little Bourke Street) is a velvet rope guiding people down a staircase. At the bottom, a door opens automatically. Slightly unnerving, slightly impressive — Beneath Driver Lane comes with a great deal of adventure.
The mysterious, underground venue gets its inspiration from the Deep South — blues, whisky and rum form the bar's identity. It's the product of owner Hamish Goonetilleke's love for New Orleans and, more specifically, the bars there. The space, located in the vault of the GPO's Money Order Office, is designed by Melbourne design agency Studio Equator. It's dark, moody and sensual with warm lights and walls flush with black and white photos from various eras. With cosy private banquettes and small round tables, Beneath Driver Lane is geared for all occasions.
The venue is thoroughly considered, from the food to the design and the extra touches that really make a venue memorable – including refreshment stations in the bathrooms, equipped with mints for when you've eaten too many jamón and comté croquettes ($4 each).
Speaking of food, the menu is New Orleans meets Melbourne in the best way possible. Make sure you order the three-cheese toastie with whisky bechamel ($16) it's comforting and generous and will turn even the worst of moods around. The smoked octopus with chorizo, black garlic aioli and pickled chilli ($22) is another winner.
When you're ordering a beverage, be prepared to read — the drinks list is long and descriptive. Spirits? There's a strong 650 of them.There are also cocktails, including the stellar Bourbon Smash ($19) — with Buffalo Trace bourbon, cranberry juice and lime — and the inventive Poetic Charmer ($19.50) with Lillet Blanc pollen syrup and chamomile bitters .
Beneath Driver Lane is a welcome addition to Melbourne's CBD bar scene. Its hidden location, moody vibe, extensive spirit list and refined design create the perfect place to escape to after a hard day in the office.