“Hot as a handbag and a can of mace,” was how one Irish crooner described summer in NYC, but he could easily have been describing the feeling you get when the automatic doors at Tullamarine open and you’re hit with 32º+, at night no less, having just endured a rather drawn out European winter.
Refreshments were needed. Melbourne is one of my fave races because I have a lot of friends here, and that means free accommodation. Having ditched the bags, my hostess asked where we should head. “I Know A Place”, I said. And that’s in caps because that’s what it’s called.
The best bars in the world are the ones that are tricky to find. A tiny door on Alexandra Parade is lit by an amber light and an LED bottle, enticing you in for cocktails. I Know A Place has a split personality. Walk through the tiny, classic cocktail lounge, order from the lady mixologist (I recommend the Marmalade Sour), and take your drinks out into a large courtyard, boxed-in with a vast mural of a Mexican farmhand by a street art collective. There’s also a traditional dunny in the corner. It’s like an Aussie Brooklyn.
Having made it out past 1am I congratulated myself on being impervious to jet lag.
The following day someone had the bright idea of going to Albert Park to hit the driving range. Past Turn 1 on the left, golf-mad F1 pilots can fake a hydraulic failure, pull over, and tee up. We did Beer n’ Bash, something you’re unlikely to find on the fairways of St Andrews, where AUD$21 buys you 100 balls and a lager of your choice.
One hundred whacks in rapid succession, and no glove, makes thumb a blistered nuisance. Time, then, to get my mitts around a cold one. A favourite haunt of mine, the Hotel Esplanade – or ‘The Espy’ as everyone calls it – is St Kilda’s live music mecca. For 100 years local legends (mostly in their own minds) have played here. Sometimes it draws big acts – I note Grandmaster Flash is appearing later this month – and there’s always a fun studenty atmosphere.
It’s also Calcutta dark if you’re inside, so after a couple of pots we headed down to the beach bars, starting with Republica at the Sea Baths. This is where Red Bull had their pre race bash last year and, on a bank holiday weekend this time, it was even livelier. In need of something to line the stomach we wandered down the beachfront to the Stokehouse, a perennial F1 hangout and, for a time, where McLaren fed the grateful ranks of the fourth estate. I dined there with Ron Dennis once. He’s a very sore loser at pub quiz.
After mojitos, oysters, mussels and raw tuna with avocado and horseradish we wandered over to Luna Park, a 100-year-old amusement park with the world’s oldest continually-operating rollercoaster. It’s survived numerous fires, just about.
It wasn’t really jet lag, more the booze and heatstroke that was beginning to kick in and so Sunday became and early one. Monday we headed out to Ace Karts, where the Beastie Boys once filmed a video, for a bit of competition. Again, no gloves and I managed to add another five blisters to my golf injuries. I’ve been walking around like an invalid ever since. The day wrapped with sundowners at Rooftop Bar (as mentioned in the F1-SD Melbourne guide) with friends Camilla (whose uncle is Dame Edna, making her antipodean royalty) and Hamish (whose father is a vineyard-owning gynecologist – hero), before curry and Saigon beers at Tom Phat on the bohemian Sydney Road.
I’m still needing to grip iced beverages to heal these blisters, but don’t worry I’m coping.
Food at the Stokehouse, a favourite with the F1 brass.