PROFILE BY BEST RESTAURANTS
At the heart of a town so proud of its live music scene, The Empress Hotel kicks on night after night with an ongoing dedication to the arts. This is where the likes of Silverchair and The White Stripes found their first audiences and where bands continue to test out their talents in an intimate and laidback venue. Once declared by Cleo Magazine as an excellent place to find a husband, the place prides itself on being female friendly – no footy colours, TV sets, pokies or any of that. Instead, open mic nights, band nights, movie nights showing Groucho Marx classics, and of course funky Fitzroy types, reading Dante in the corner.
An historical icon of the North Fitzroy landscape, The Empress was established in 1873, licensed to John Bourke and named after Queen Victoria who was then the Empress of India. The building itself retains a period feel, merging the boutique grunge of Fitzroy with old world opulence. Velvet couches, plush but worn, make incongruent the Coopers-drinking crowd in a way only The Empress can achieve. A heated courtyard out the back accommodates Melburnians defiant of winter, and blossoms in summer to become a sought after beer garden. Meals here are typical pub fare but with a classy difference. You'll certainly find your pub regulars like fish and chips and burgers, in generous servings with salad and vinaigrette dressing, but you'll also find vegetarian options including risotto balls with artichoke and white bean puree or chickpea fritters with tzatziki and harissa dip. My personal favourite is the twice-baked blue cheese souffle with spinach, mascarpone and pomegranate.