|The Imperial Hotel, corner of Bourke and Spring Streets, Melbourne|
Touted on its website as Melbourne's third-oldest pub, there's no doubting that the Bourke Street Imperial Hotel (2-8 Bourke Street, Melbourne) is old-school. Established in 1858 and boasting red cedar doors of the same age, "the Impy" is one of those comfy drinking holes you tend to forget about, even though you pass it on the tram every day. It's on the corner of Bourke and Spring Streets, right on the 86/96 tram line, and a hop-skip-jump from Parliament Station.
|Red cedar doors dating back to 1858|
I'd been to the Imperial a few times before. It's an easy meeting point considering its proximity to PT, and a safe haven from the unpredictable Melbourne rain when all you feel like is a drink on the way home. I've watched footy there, sipped wine at their footpath tables when I couldn't get into City Wine Shop, seen comedy upstairs, and even been through a break-up there (meh, not a dramatic one). So when I read that the Imperial was gaining a rooftop bar, I was rather keen to see what it would be like.
|The Evil Stairs|
Downstairs, the pub is all about sports, tourists, hugging your pint perched on a traditional bar stool, or scoffing a parma as quickly as possible before a show at the Princess Theatre. The rooftop has a much younger, fresher vibe, but is still a casual drinking space frequented by all walks of life. The evil three-storey climb is worth it when you come out onto the large, simple wooden deck, with a full-frontal assault of Parliament House to your left, and a pleasant vista down Bourke Street directly ahead.
|Melbourne's Parliament House|
|Bourke Street view from The Imperial rooftop|
To your right is general city skyline, the kitchen and the bar, housed in a specially-craned up shipping container.
Colourful, cushioned bench seating runs alongside the glass-fenced edge to maximise the great views, and bench seating is also laid out to create seating nooks around the deck, interposed with little wooden stools and garden chairs. Towards the middle are a few tall tables for you to herd around with your drinking buddies - some with accompanying stools, if you're lucky. (There's a rant in me somewhere about uncomfortable stools - and yes, I mean the seating kind - but I think we'll save that for another day.)
A handful of Pimm's umbrellas reduce the sunburn potential slightly, and you can try and follow their shade, but you'd most likely end up in someone else's lap. So be warned, this is basically a full-exposure rooftop. Slip-slop-slap! (Especially you, tourists... and opaque-skinned locals like me.) On one of my visits, water mist sprayed out from the roof line's edge - O, sweet relief on those sticky, 40-ish days! But I haven't seen it since (over two further summertime visits), so I'm starting to think maybe it was a mirage...
Yes, this is another rooftop bar, something which we all know Melbourne is not short of. If so inclined, you could include the Impy in a Rooftop Hop (Copyright WordHappy!) with the likes of the nearby Madame Brussels, Loop Roof, Tuscan Bar, Siglo, Bomba... and so on. Interestingly, the Impy rooftop is 100% smoke-free - possibly a new point of difference in a sea of Melbourne rooftops.
Food and drinks-wise, the Imperial rooftop isn't breaking any new ground, with (yawn) yet more offerings of pub-style, fried Americana morsels designed to be drunk copiously with (or is it the other way around?). At least they're affordable. There are a bunch of beers on tap to keep everyone happy, plus a limited but decent smattering of wines - and they definitely carry Cafe Patron, a fact of which I am now happily aware. Jugs of Pimm's also seem popular, but that could be due to the liberal Pimm's branding.
Apparently, this is now Melbourne's largest rooftop bar (let's see how long that lasts, shall we?) at 185 square metres, enough space to hold up to 270 patrons. I wonder if the capacity was tested in its early weeks, with one of its first big events after completion a 2016 New Year's Eve rooftop party with free entry.
|All kinds of folks being happy together|
What I like about this rooftop though, is that unlike many of the others, it's unpretentious. You really do get all walks of life here - a mixture of locals and tourists, the elite and the ordinary, varying ages. Everyone seems happy and relaxed - and why wouldn't you be, drinking in the sun on a CBD rooftop with a view?
|The Imperial, its rooftop and Parliament House at dusk|
Run by the Melbourne Venue Company (with a bunch of other well-known Melbourne watering holes to its name), the Imperial offers smooth functions packages and events galore, but seems to be hitting an everyman niche in the CBD that I believe is sadly dwindling. The rooftop has added another element to its mix, that may just see it through another 158 years.
|Bourke Street from Parliament in ye olde days|
The Imperial is open seven days til 11pm, or 1am on weekends.