1989 Melbourne’s first small bar opens

Dogs Bar, St Kilda

The Dogs’ Bar was opened in St Kilda by Donlevy Fitzpatrick, who campaigned for years for more civilised drinking laws. It was Melbourne’s first small bar, in a city that now claims to be the bar capital of the world, and remained popular for decades for its wine by the glass, live music and open fire.

Donlevy Fitzpatrick was a Melbourne engineer who became a restaurateur, property developer and vigneron.  He opened his first restaurant, Donlevy’s, in Armstrong Street, Middle Park in the late 1970s. The restaurant was one of Melbourne’s first modern cafe-style restaurants, with interesting, inexpensive food and tables on the footpath outside. Fitzpatrick later opened the Vic Ave Cafe in Albert Park.

He was a tireless campaigner against Victoria’s liquor laws which, at the time, permitted only pubs to serve liquor without a meal. His quest was eventually successful, allowing him to open the Dogs’ Bar in two renovated buildings in Acland Street, St Kilda.  The law also changed to permit alcohol to be served at outside tables.

The Dog’s Bar was the forerunner of the many small bars that contribute to Melbourne’s unique character. It immediately became a trendy place to meet friends and, remarkably,  endured for more than thirty years. It was getting a bit tired after several changes of ownership until a new team took over in 2015, determined to restore the venue to its former glory.

Reviews under the new ownership seemed mixed.

“Pretty average food. Always used to over-deliver but has turned the opposite. In future I’d drop in for a drink, reminisce about what used to be and move on to somewhere else for food,” wrote one customer on Trip Adviser.

However, others were more enthusiastic about the Dog’s Bar, saying “What a gem! Great selection of beer and wine, amazing food and well-priced. We only dropped in for a pre-dinner drink, but then stayed for dinner, stayed longer for the Friday night band, danced like no one was watching and did it all over again the next night!!”

Fitzpatrick went on to purchase St Kilda’s dilapidated George Hotel where he developed a mixture of cafes, bars, restaurants and apartments.  He died in 2008 after a long battle with cancer. Later that year Gourmet Traveller magazine saluted him as making “an outstanding contribution to the industry”.

The Dog’s Bar was permanently closed in 2020 after the owner could not reach an agreement with the landlord.

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