Picture this: it's Thursday night. One of my sadistic coworkers and I decide to embark on a backpacker pub crawl. Neither of us have been backpacking, so the night is sort of a way to make the youthful memories we missed out on. It is irrelevant that the drinks are going on the company tab.
Izzy and I share the same name, and the same desire to die prematurely, so it feels right to do this crawl together. I'm the one in the photos. She's the one taking them. Also her name is "Izzy" and mine is "Issy," so we are easy to tell apart in writing.
I'm sure you have already gleaned that this is a terrible idea. So have we. No real backpacker bar crawl will take us because we aren't staying at a hostel, so we've just mapped out our own bootleg version around Melbourne.
We start in the centre of the city. Blue Moon is a neon-tinted street-level joint, which looks more like an airport lounge than an actual bar. The decor is a delicate combination of foodcourt chairs, couches from Craigslist, and a man without shoes on. Dimly flashing disco lights fight a losing battle with the fluorescents overhead.
There's some kind of 2003 megamix blasting from the speakers. The TVs around the room are playing music videos not at all related to the songs we're hearing. I think I've heard this is a tactic used to disorientate people in Guantanamo.
Izzy and I drink a couple of beers each and a few shots. They are those cowboy shots with the sealed lids you have to peel off to drink. The ones you always see stacked up at bottle shop registers but thought no one in the world would actually think to buy. All up our drinks come to $12, which seems, y'know, like a pretty serious public health risk. At this price, I can picture Izzy and I dog-paddling along the Yarra River in a matter of hours.
The bar suddenly fills up and the music gets louder. Here's the thing: Blue Moon offers free pizza from 9 PM to 10 PM. Like completely free. You don't even need to buy a drink. I'm not trying to sell you on this place. I'm telling you so you understand why people are flooding into Blue Moon, despite the venue having all the street appeal of a supervised injecting room.
But we didn't come to mingle. We want the kind of full on debauchery that only a person with no discernible support system, two t-shirts, one digital camera, and no travel insurance can create. We need to find some real backpackers.
I Can't Remember the Name of This One, Let's Just Call it Bar Two
We head to next backpacker bar on the other side of the city, entering via escalators that are purely decorative. I can't find my ID but the bouncer really doesn't care at all. It makes perfect sense once we get inside the bar, 'cause there are literally six people here: Me, Izzy, two girls playing pool, the bartender, and the bartender's friend. I can see a smattering of people standing outside on the balcony. They're not even smoking. They are just standing there. The vibe inside is so bad that non-smokers would rather stand outside in the rain.
We, personally, do not want to loiter in the rain so we head back inside. The bar is playing a cage fight on all its screens. Given there are more TVs than people, we decide to leave.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, the next venue is called Ubar. It's an interesting place, because despite being the size of my room, the bar feels as cavernous as the Sistine fucking Chapel. Every single person inside looks like Ed Sheeran in one way or another. They have that energy drink Mother on tap.
The drinks menu is just a list Satanic puns scrawled up on a blackboard inside of a poor sketch of a mason jar. We decide on a Satan's Special and a Devil's Demon. Satan's Special I understand. It's not funny or anything, but it at least makes sense. Devil's Demon is like, I don't understand. Does the devil have a literal demon? Like an employee? Is his Demon on payroll? Or is the Devil an alcoholic, and this is a more metaphorical Demon? Is the Demon a drink that belongs to the Devil—like it's his favourite drink? Explain it to me. Please.
We approach the American bartender, who's living in the hostel upstairs. He tells us it's his first day. Not just at this bar, but at any bar. This makes immediate sense once we watch him try to wrap his mind around the concept of a drink containing more than two ingredients. As the Devil's Demon materialises before us, it becomes clear that — despite the dark names — we have essentially ordered two glasses of candy. He pours one shot of vodka into a pint glass, then fills the entire thing up with cordial and lemonade. More cordial than lemonade. Think about that: it's the consistency of spit. For those of you playing at home, The Satan's Special is the exact same thing, but also with blue cordial so it goes purple-ish black.
Please, if you will, pause here with me for one moment. A person, assumedly a bartender, made these recipes up. Someone who tends bars for a living combined these ingredients, tasted them, and, after swilling them about their taste buds, decided to write the recipe down and force it on the unsuspecting world. All the while, presumably, being paid. This malevolent creator also decided to suggest it would be sold in a mason jar so people would, you know, actually buy the goddamn drink, but really just throw it a pint glass. The final product being, literally, half a litre of pure sugar water.
Drinks in hand, we sit down and a chick behind the bar picks up a microphone and announces some entertainment. Cool, finally. A young guy sits himself on a barstool in front of the bar, facing the crowd of twelve, and begins to fingerpick an acoustic guitar. He sings covers of the Black Keys, and what we can only assume are some originals.
We realise we are watching an indoor busker and drinking flavoured lube. It's time to leave.
Unfortunately, it turns out the fourth stop on our crawl is just a regular bar. It's actually kind of nice: the type of place where people meet to have affairs. Izzy and I are so bored and hopped up on sugar that I decide to flash my tit to the whole bar. Now we're getting somewhere.
Maybe if we start behaving like horny little shits, we'll eventually manage to find some. You know what they say: if you can't find 'em, be them. Something like that, right? I don't know. My blood has turned to glucose syrup.
We leave, and head south to what we've been told is Melbourne's backpacker mecca: X Base. This is where all hope is lost.
It's official. Backpackers have fuck all to do on Thursday nights. There's like 30 people in this bar, and most of them are just sprawled across the peeling vinyl couches. The DJ is sitting in an office chair.
We go to the bar, which also has Mother on tap, and order some drinks that are named after the suburb we are in, St Kilda. Thy come in mason jars—finally, some integrity around here —although they're soft, plastic mason jars. They will do.
These drinks are the exact colour of Berocca-stained piss. We each skull four of these tupperware-container cocktails, hoping to get drunk enough to attract some attention. By this point we've resorted to Googling things like "where are the backpackers?" and "worst club in St Kilda." It is, in a word, grim.
The drinks do not stir up the drama we'd hoped for. They just make us need to pee. I go to the bathroom and think about throwing up because my dinner was two litres of red cordial, Irish creme, and a horrible acoustic set by the world's worst Jack Johnson impersonator, but it doesn't happen. Fun fact: My pee is neon.
When I return to the bar Izzy is at a table with three backpackers. She gives me a look which I think says "goodnight" or something, because her eyelids are covering 80 percent of her eyeballs. She is sitting with another backpacker whose is asking us for dating advice, because she has a crush on this other backpacker who's standing one metre away. Izzy says, "You should just be able to tell if he's into you." But it doesn't seem like she can, so we go and stand with them for a bit. Turns out he's not
Finally, we're interacting with backpackers. Coincidentally, we're also completely fucked. This is the closest we've come all night to what is, I assume, the "backpacker experience"— standing around a table with strangers from different countries, united by blood alcohol content.
The dance floor is literally completely empty, but I go dance anyway. It looks depressing, but it feels pretty good.
Then the bar closes. But it's exactly the same "closed" as it is "open." Lights on, nobody moving.
On the way out I jump on a beanbag for "lols" and realise why people who are backpacking seem exponentially less cool than regular people: they've got no idea where hang out, so they wind up in whatever bar is downstairs from their hostel drinking melted gummy bears by the pint. They've probably all got horrible migraines, but since they worked as a dishy for a year to finance this trip, they've got to make it interesting by doing literally anything to spice up their night. Even like, just being on a beanbag.
It really all makes sense now.