It's easy to get a serious drink in Melbourne. Hell, we have some of the best bars in the world here (check the trophy cabinet) where drinks are routinely constructed with great skill, knowledge, booze, ice and glassware. We are a better city for having those bars and we thank them for their service.
But drinking in bars is a broader tapestry than the label on the bottle and a beautifully balanced Boulevardier. Sometimes it's about getting over-refreshed, blowing off a little steam and creating vague but still embarrassing memories of knocking over your drink while enthusiastically seat dancing to Play That Funky Music, White Boy. This is where The Shady Lady comes in.
Co-owned by sisters Georgina and Rosie Maughan and Mandyjo Reinier, The Shady Lady is an exuberantly trashy, smell-of-an-oily-rag dive bar modelled on the American dive bars Reinier and Georgina Maughan tended in Brooklyn for several years.
Nailing the dimly lit grungy vibe via a palette of blues – painted brick walls, ruched fabric, padded bar rests, a fake marlin head, the face of the subject in Vladimir Tretchikoff's painting Chinese Girl – there's also timber panelling, tasselled light fittings and, most importantly for the genre, a neon sign in the front window.
The closest thing The Shady Lady has to a menu is the list of cigarettes for sale taped above the cash register (there's an Astroturfed courtyard out the back where you can consume your purchase). Everything else is kept to a quick chat-sized minimum.
There are three wines – white, red, rosé – and a short list of beer that favours the local. Abbotsford brewery Bodriggy is on tap (the American pale ale is big-flavoured and feisty without being annoyingly self-conscious) and there are cans of Colonial or Young Henrys. Imports are limited to cans of easy-quaffing Mexican beer Tecate, an American dive bar stalwart.
Frozen drinks are the go-to. Slushy-like daiquiri, pina colada, blue margarita and (bright green) mojito are all served in tall glasses and thematically garnished.
If you haven't had a pina colada for a while, The Shady Lady's version is a worthy way to return to the fold and not just because of the ornate garnish – paper fruit-decorated straw, pineapple chunk, pineapple leaf, maraschino cherry. It's refreshing and not too sweet, with the white and dark rums still noticeable above the main coconut and pineapple noise. The level of freezing is also ideal: liquid enough so you don't burst a vein trying to drink it through the straw but still attractively icy.
The best thing about The Shady Lady (other than the soundtrack that somehow makes Come On Eileen the logical song to follow Shake Your Booty) is its welcoming, wryly humorous, unpretentious attitude. In this, more than anything, it truly channels the authentic dive bar spirit.
Address 36 Johnston Street, Fitzroy, no phone, theshadylady.com.au
Cards MC V eftpos
Open Thu-Sat & Mon 4pm-1am, Sun 4pm-11pm
Beefeater gin, Cinzano vermouth, olives. It's not that they don't care about martinis (though the olives were average and it wasn't cold enough); it's just not a priority when there are frozen pina coladas to be had.
Go-to snack: Snacks are still TBC. Rumour has it that a lot of vegan sausages are being tested on carnivores in the lead-up.
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