Hidden down Hardware Lane is the last place you'd think to find East China Trading Co, but you'll be glad you did.
Melbourne's (relatively) new kid on the block, the cocktail, dumpling and rum bar is inspired by the trading companies of old world Shanghai — think commodities like coffee, tea, spices and sugar.
The venue plays with stripped back walls and contrasts its low-key vibe with pops of colour and bright cocktails dotted around intimately sized table. The Ananas Chilli Fizz cocktail, which features cold press pineapple juice and pineapple vinegar topped with shredded angel hair chilli, is a popular choice among revellers.
Oozing with an honest and accessible sophistication, the cocktail menu offers non-alcoholic old fashioneds, martinis and sours, giving non-drinkers the choice to order more than just a lemon lime and bitters.
On the food menu you'll find your favourite Chinese dim sum selections. Everything from barbecue pork bao to xiao long bao soup dumplings, paired perfectly — albeit untraditionally — with one of the 200 rums the bar showcases on its shelves. With vegan and vegetarian options available, you can tailor your basket to suit everyone at the table.
As you enjoy a drink and chat with friends, you'll feel the subtle, vivacious hum of ECTC's sister bar below. Golden Monkey has been a nightlife destination on Lonsdale Street for over 12 years and has recently undergone an exciting facelift.
Wander downstairs into the basement to find a dark, opium den-styled hotspot for cocktails, live bands and DJs Thursdays through to Saturdays. Red, moody lights illuminate a lively bar and cosy booths nestled away in each corner.
Opened by life-long friends Adam Ong and Michael Chen, ECTC combines an appreciation and knowledge of cocktail making with a cheeky playfulness, inviting people in to escape from the laneway and have a night to remember (or to forget).
Images: Julia Sansone