Well known to locals but hidden from view, the flirtatious rooftop bar Madame Brussels is a journey in itself – somewhat like falling down the hole with Alice and enjoying a tea party with all her friends.
Michael Anderson and Miss Pearls opened Madame Brussels in 2002, and Miss Pearls works with Sean Beukes to manage the bar. Miss Pearls is well known for furnishing lavish parties while Michael has a background in designing opera sets, and he is primarily responsible for the design at Madame Brussels.
The rooftop venue is housed in a somewhat dingy building – but don’t be put off. You’ll reach the third-storey by elevator, and once the doors open, your imagination will expand with delight.
Madame Brussels reinvents the tea party, complete with brilliant-green AstroTurf, offering an atmosphere that is both fun and surreal. Having operated for over seven years, Madame Brussels has more than one trick up its sleeve and shows no signs of losing speed.
Immediately inside, grass extends as far as the eye can see, as do garden tables and chairs with over-the-top flower prints. Trellising surrounds the bar, which could itself be easily mistaken for the entrance into a hedge maze, and a doorway on the other side of the room leads to one of downtown Melbourne’s largest and most open patios.
The bar took its name from one of Melbourne’s most infamous ladies of the night, Madame Brussels, also known as Caroline Hodgson. At her peak, she ran at least eight brothels in Melbourne, and Michael and Miss Pearls pay homage to this important historical figure in several ways.
Firstly, the drinks at Madame Brussels are in no way typical garden-party fare: they include rather large jugs of spirits, such as Madame’s DD Cup, which the bar describes as ‘our version of Pimms.’ Secondly, the wait staff, both the men and the women, dress in skimpy tennis whites. Lastly, the bar loves its music, and the dancing continues until at least 1am every night.
Even though Madame Brussels gives preference to punch, rosé, and other lazy-Sunday cocktails, it offers a full bar of spirits along with bottled beer and several wines by the glass.
Martini fans will be pleased to find locally made Maidenii vermouth, and, for the end of the night, Coffee Basics coffee is served. The bar also furnishes a small food menu, which includes sinful sausage rolls, a cheese platter, dishes of olives or cashews, and sandwiches, including the signature poached chicken sandwich with chives, mayo, lemon wedges and Tabasco. In need of something sweet? No tea party is complete without cupcakes, such as lemon sponge cupcake with hot-pink butter icing.
Madame Brussels is so relaxing that many patrons arrive with sun block in hand. They’re ready for an afternoon spent down the rabbit hole, emerging only when reality insists they must.