An icon if there ever was one, The Espy has been a proud bastion of live music, booze and romantic misunderstandings for eons.
Located on prime real estate, the hotel looks out over Port Phillip Bay and the St Kilda Esplanade, attracting all sorts of local wildlife plus those who float into the area for a spot of vicarious living.
“As much as you’ve bought The Espy, you’ll never really own it,” said a message passed on from the previous owners of Hotel Esplanade.
Your favourite band in the Gershwin Room, pre-gig beers in the Star Wars bar, stumbling in from the seaside… everyone has a story to tell about The Espy. 140 years of stories and secrets are hidden in its walls, from budding romances, to celebrations, break ups and make ups. If the walls could talk, they’d tell some unbelievable tales.
It’s been a home for many years to Melbourne’s colourful characters, from members of the arts community to musicians looking for their first big break, and the philanthropist, Alfred Felton, who lived and died in The Espy.
Since reopening its doors in 2018, every square centimetre of The Espy is now open for enjoyment, including the fifth level which has never before been open to the public.
The reimagined Hotel Esplanade is full of music, arts, cocktails, fun and laughter. To put it simply, there is no pub like it.
What you need to know
- Known for being Melbourne’s heart of music in the south, The Espy is launching some killer gigs this month
- They’re showcasing all kinds of music, with a free gig every week in the basement
- Upcoming acts include Ben Ottewell & Ian Ball of Gomez, The Bamboos, Darude and Ben Lee
Keep up with the latest music news, features, festivals, interviews and reviews here.
The Espy Live
An iconic and longstanding music venue, there’s nowhere in the south quite like the Hotel Esplanade – lovingly known as The Espy by the locals.
Situated on the St Kilda foreshore, overlooking both the bay and Catani Gardens, this laid-back hangout is unleashing a huge new line-up of gigs this month under the banner The Espy Live, reinforcing its reputation as the southside’s premier destination for live music.
Live music shows, open mic nights and comedy sessions are all happening across the expansive venue, showcasing everything from intimate jazz and acoustic sets to heavier rock bands all weekend and most weeknights. Whether it’s a gig in the prolific Gershwin Room or a weekly free show in the basement, The Espy has always been and always will be the home of live music located right at the heart of St Kilda.
“It’s hard to talk about what live music can mean, at its best, without sounding pretentious. And it should never sound pretentious,” says renowned singer-songwriter Ben Lee. “Because it’s everything at once – holy and horny, debauched and devotional, fantastic and fun. I just can’t wait to be back on a stage, sweaty and singing my heart out for a group of humans that want to take a journey together for an hour or two. Allowing my mind to drift, I can hear the angels calling me now ‘the Espy awaits! The Espy awaits! Don your coolest hat and shoes and be ready to be merged into music once again!’”
Lee is bringing his prolific and unpredictable live show to the St Kilda foreshore with his ‘Parents Get High Tour’ on June 17, making him one of the many artists performing at The Espy this month. The hotel’s line-up for June is a showcase of unmissable, huge live acts – including Finish-born trance artist Darude, known for his hit single ‘Sandstorm’, Starcrawler and Dayglow, who are coming to The Espy on July 23 and July 26 respectively for their Splendour in the Grass sideshows, and Australian funk and soul outfit The Bamboos, who are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their album ‘Medicine Man’.
“I have memories of Playing the Gershwin room with Curtis Late whilst heavily pregnant with my 28-year-old, and later the front bar with Dylan Lewis and Mega Bias,” The Bamboos’ legendary frontwoman and queen of Aussie soul, Kylie Auldist adds. “On through the years to performances with Cookin’ on 3 Burners and The Bamboos. As an audience member dancing on that sticky floor to too many bands to mention, The Espy is a huge part of my musical history.
“Local musos getting to play on the same stage as huge bands from all over the world was and still is magic! For a time we worried it would be turned into flats, so the fact that the music continues in an elegantly upgraded Espy is something to be cherished. So looking forward to bringing the party back to St Kilda with the Bamboos!”
Reputed to be the longest continuously running live music venue in Australia, the new and revamped Espy carries the torch of a prolific and storied history of live music. In the 19th century, The Espy was the home of Alfred Felton until his death in 1904.
A wealthy philanthropist and benefactor, Felton was the man who essentially founded the NGV through extensive donations. During his stay, The Espy hosted many famous visitors, including Mark Twain himself in the 1880s. It’s seen many transformations throughout the ages, from a steamy and smoky jazz and dance venue in the 1920s, to a disco in the 1970s – complete with a flashing dance floor (think Saturday Night Fever). With live music being played every night on up to three stages through the 80s and 90s, The Espy has always been a good community venue in support of local musicians. You also might recognise The Gershwin Room as the live filming location for Australian quiz show RocKwiz – where years before, host Julia Zemiro used to work as a waitress at the hotel.
Steve Lucas from X, says The Espy has always been Melbourne’s live music destination.
The Espy as a music destination
“One of my earliest memories of first coming to Melbourne was heading straight to the Espy every morning at opening time. It didn’t matter how late X played elsewhere the night before, we’d head to the Espy at opening time and straight to a booth and start drinking… B52 cocktails were a favourite at one time. Our gigs in the front bar were the stuff of legends and oh! the sticky carpet…
“X and the Espy – a lot of memories. I met my first wife on the front steps of the Espy way back in the early 80s. There’s been a lot of changes since.
Even before the renovations were complete during The Espy’s latest upgrade X did a gig in the Gershwin Room to let the people
of St Kilda know the music would continue. We got the grand tour of what was to be among the rubble of the memories and a glimpse of the vision of what was to be. It is good to be coming back and with X. We will do it large!”
An extremely versatile space, The Espy has recently been reborn for another 100 years of hosting live music punters – having expanded from two stories being open to the public to all four since its 2015 renovation. With a 1950s style Studio Bar on the ground floor, Cantonese restaurant Mya Tiger on the first floor and mezzanine-level function room, The Espy is a live music and entertainment labyrinth ready for you to discover.
Head here for their latest gigs and info.