Out on the town
I recently visited a pub in central Melbourne. I was blind before I even got there. My vision impaired friend and I had to risk our lives to access the amber nectar. The pub had a flight of very steep stairs. Fortunately, we managed to escape unscathed. But I found myself wondering which pubs in Melbourne were accessible for people with a disability.
There are many drinking establishments in Melbourne. I limited my search for accessible places to drink to traditional pubs. I have found many modern bars are tucked away in locations that demand a crash course in orienteering. I suspect few would be accessible to people with a disability.
Unfortunately, my friend and I could only find one pub in the city that could be considered accessible to most people with a disability. An accessible venue has at a minimum:
- A step-free entry
- Accessible toilets
- Staff that are responsive to the needs of people with a disability.
A fully accessible venue should also have:
- Reasonable ambient noise levels
- Ease of movement for people who are vision or mobility impaired
- Accessible information such as signage and Braille menus.
I visited a number of pubs in the central business district of Melbourne. I covered an area between Flinders, La Trobe, Spring and Spencer streets.
Many of the pubs we visited were housed in old buildings. Many are beautiful heritage structures. But they are not necessarily ideal for access. Very few venues we visited were without steps. Some provide good access on the ground floor but only stairs to upper floors. Split levels might add to the architectural interest but limit access for some patrons.
One of the most accessible establishments was the Elephant and Wheelbarrow in Bourke Street. The doorways are level for easy access. The venue blends a modern pub atmosphere with a touch of England. There are accessible toilets and friendly staff. I enjoyed ravioli from the menu. My companion was less thrilled with her roast. At lunchtime the place was busy. But the music was at a reasonable level so it wasn't too noisy.
Arguably Melbourne's most iconic pub is Young and Jackson's. It is opposite Flinders Street Station. The pub's side-entry is accessible. But the lift to the first floor was out of order when we visited. The first floor is also split by several steps. The venue has accessible toilets and staff responsive to the needs of people with a disability. There were no Braille menus but the menu is accessible from the pub's website.
Our experiences at other pubs were not as positive. One establishment at the west end of the city featured a good ramped entry. Unfortunately access did not extend beyond this point. There were no accessible toilets and signage was unclear. It was a pity as the menu was extensive. The gnocchi ragout I enjoyed was extremely tasty.
One of the larger hotels off Collins Street allowed easy access to the foyer. But there were several steps up to the lift. I liked the fact that the bar on the first floor was carpeted. It made for lower noise levels and easier conversations.
Up the northern end of the city, one drinking establishment offers access without a step through a side entrance. But patrons using a wheelchair are unable to access the first floor. Patrons may eat in the downstairs bar instead. Fortunately, there are accessible toilets.
A common theme in our testing was staff maintaining they had accommodated wheelchair users in the past. Many pub staff also demonstrated a positive attitude to helping out. But their venues typically have doorways with steps and split-level bars, such as a hotel in Bourke Street I visited. Another at the north-east end of the city had an accessible toilet but a small step at entry. Another nearby venue had a lift for wheelchair users and accessible toilets but several steps up to the entry. Lighting was also dim.
Another disappointment was that we did not discover Braille menus anywhere in our travels. Some pubs featured menus on their websites, though.
My final tip is to ring venues beforehand. Staff are often willing to help. I found staff were positive in assisting people with a disability. Just make sure you don't get too blind...
Are most pubs accessible to you? What have been some of your best and worst experiences? Let us know in the comments section below.