The Parliament House of Victoria is on the east end of Melbourne’s Central Business District in an area that is rich in history and densely occupied by bars. Coincidence? We think not. Putting ourselves in the shoes of a politician, we first toured Parliament House and then walked a path to various pubs that we think politicians may have ventured into over the years. Pubs, no doubt, have historically been used by politicians to make back bar deals, capitalize on their position of power and discuss the differences of political regimes. Combining a Melbourne Parliament tour and a politician pub crawl just made logical sense!
Melbourne Parliament Tour
Construction of the Parliament House first began in 1856 and the tour includes a look into the Vestibule, Library and the two Chambers. Tony, our knowledgeable tour guide, led us through the ornately decorated building, chronicling the history of politics in Melbourne.
We entered the building by way of the Vestibule. The high ceiling, columns and mosaic floor are grand. But, rather than being decorated in bright, bold colors, a palette of pastels creates a soothing atmosphere.
As we made our way into the chambers, we got a quick, but efficient history lesson. Victoria’s government – and Australia’s – is modeled after the Westminster system used in the United Kingdom. Melbourne’s parliament is made up of two houses, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Assembly, similar to the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The Legislative Council, also called the Upper House, has 40 politicians and the Legislative Assembly, the Lower House, is made up of 88. Politicians are elected and serve four year terms.
Both chambers are designed in the shape of a horseshoe and the focus lies on the center table. In each room, at the open end of the horseshoe is a single, raised chair where the presiding member of each chamber sits. In the Assembly, it is the Speaker’s Chair and in the Council it’s the President’s Chair. The rooms are the same size, but the the Assembly Chamber is decorated in green and, since it has more seats, it feels smaller, while the Legislative Chamber is decorated in red and is much more opulent.
The Library is used by politicians for research and reference. We were only allowed in the Central Reading Room, but smaller rooms branch off each side. In the center of the room hangs an enormous crystal chandelier above a round reading table.
Politician Pub Crawl
Once we were primed in Melbourne’s politics, we were ready to follow in the footsteps of politicians, leaving the orderly Parliament House and making our way into the pubs.
Our first stop was just a short jaunt from the Parliament steps at The Cricketers Bar in The Windsor Hotel. The hotel, in fact, is where Australia’s constitution was written in 1898 and I imagine more than a few pints were consumed in the process. The bar is an island in a sea of historic cricket memorabilia (the game, not the insect) and people of every sort shuffled in for the weekday happy hour.
Next, we stopped at Madame Brussels Bar on Bourke Street, which ends at Parliament’s steps. Just to the north, on Little Lonsdale Street, was once the Red Light District of Melbourne and Madame Brussels ran several well-known brothels in the area in the late 1800s to 1907. Interesting is the proximity to the Parliament House…more interesting are the rumors that there used to be underground tunnels running between the two. If it’s true, it definitely wasn’t on the Melbourne Parliament tour.
Although Madame Brussels Bar is not an original brothel, the bar bears the name of the famous Madame and is themed in a naughty garden party style. Much of the bar is outdoors and includes a rooftop with views. The weather had turned a bit misty, but we sat on the roof anyway, using a pretty parasol and ordering up a pot of warm, mulled wine.
Our final stop was at Berlin Bar, an establishment dedicated to a time when Berlin was divided by politics into East and West. The unassuming bar is hidden on a laneway near Chinatown. To gain entry, we walked up a set of stairs to the locked door and were required to ring a bell to get inside.
We were ushered into the glitz and glamour of 1960s West Berlin, complete with posh designs of the time. We walked through the Iron Curtain, so to speak, and emerged into a room depicting East Berlin. Steel framed bunk beds and low light offered an industrial atmosphere. Seated in ‘West Berlin,’ we raised our glasses of German imports, “Prost to our Melbourne Parliament tour and a politician pub crawl!”
We want to know: Do you like ‘theme’ days? Have you been on a Melbourne Parliament Tour? Let us know in the comments!