Occasionally you get a drinking session that lives with you as a classic of its type, and this was one of them. Soon after returning from my trip round Tasmania, I'd suggested to Andrew that we pop out for a beer on a Friday night, and maybe catch a band: nothing too heavy, just a beer. He suggested Brunswick Street1.
The first band we found were appalling, but that didn't matter – if there's one thing Melbourne isn't short of, it's bands. So we grabbed a copy of the local freebie music guide, had a quick flick, and discovered our mission: to get to The Club on Smith Street. So we set off...
...and stopped at a long, thin bar on the way, which had this funky groove band pumping out serious vibes onto the street. We ordered a bourbon and coke – the most popular Aussie drink after beer – and settled in, but just as we got into it, they took a half-hour break. So it was back to the mission: to find The Club.
I'm not too sure of the distances, but we eventually got there at about 1am. There it was: The Club, proudly announcing that Manic Suede would take the stage at 2am. In we went, coughing up the entrance fee, and settled into a few games of pool peppered with yet more beer.
Manic Suede were excellent and quite apt. They were manic, and I just swayed.
It was while drinking a beer at the bar after the gig that I realised that it was getting light outside. This came as a bit of a shock; I had thought it was about 3am, but it was actually 6am, which gradually turned into 7am, when the place shut. Time to go home...
...not! One thing that must be done after a drinking session is to have a kebab, and it appears that the rules are the same on both sides of the world. In Australia they call them souvlaki, and the best souvlaki in the world are served on Lygon Street, Melbourne (according to Andrew). So we wandered off to Lygon Street, taking in the sights of the city, wondering where the time had gone. Irritatingly the souvlaki shop was shut, but you can't go home without souvlaki: those are the rules. So Andrew decided that, as we were up and still alive, we should see some of the alternative sights of Melbourne while waiting for the souvlaki shop to open. We saw the trams opening up, and even blagged a free ride on the premise that Andrew was showing his Pommy friend the sights of their fair city. We saw street performers starting up and Saturday businessmen rush to work, but the sight of the day had to be The Carlton.
The Carlton is a 24-hour bar, and it's the shadiest hovel I've ever seen, especially at eight in the morning. We met the dregs of society there, and beat them at pool. There were drunk Aborigines, including one guy who lectured Aboriginal history at Melbourne TAFE (the Aussie equivalent of colleges of further education); there were drunk Maoris, including one guy who told me all the shady places to visit in New Zealand; there were drunk Aussies; there were drunk travellers with jet lag... you name it, they were there, and drunk. You only visit The Carlton once, but it's an eye-opener.
Enter the Pokies!
So is Young and Jackson's Hotel, which houses one of the finest collections of pokies in Melbourne. The pokies – short for poker machines – are the Australian equivalent of fruit machines, and they're a serious problem. Until about two years ago gambling was illegal in Victoria, and everyone used to go to the border towns for their gambling. Now it's been legalized, and it's spread so quickly it's become a serious social problem. A good night's debauchery wouldn't be complete without a gamble, so we hit the pokies.
Pokies use computer screens, and each has about ten different games to play, all of which eat your money. We were only there as an exercise in tourism, but you should have seen some of the men there – all men, of course – who were pouring money into these things; it was really rather lonely.
Things got a little hazy at this stage; I know we watched some skateboarders for while, and then climbed over some fountains before having a run-in with the local police, the usual thing... but having a souvlaki is the rule, so we made our drunken way back to Lygon Street, where the souvlaki did indeed live up to its reputation. Suitably refreshed, we crashed out in the park for about four hours, until five o'clock in the afternoon. This was more or less unintentional; the next thing we knew it was five o'clock, but what can you expect after an all-nighter?
In fact, when I woke up, Andrew had gone, and I made my dazed way off in the direction I thought would take me home. It was only by bumping back into Andrew – who had gone off for a leak, and had panicked when he'd lost me, because he didn't know where we were staying – that I realised I was going in totally the wrong direction. We made it back eventually, after making up the rule that we had to have a beer in every pub on the way. And when we got back to where I was staying we realised, 'Hey! It's Saturday night. Where shall we go?'
But that is another story...
1 Brunswick is one of those amazing streets: it's a combination of shady clubs, posh restaurants, and fascinating little shops selling arty goods that you can't really believe anybody buys. It's a haven for the bizarre, and as such it's a hoot.