Posted March 17, 2016

Melbourne's original Yarra River bar turns 10

Riverland is 10 years old today and the owners are throwing a four day party to celebrate!

Tucked into the historic vaults of Federation Wharf and boasting Melbourne’s best urban beer garden, Riverland is without a doubt one of the city’s most iconic bars. For a decade, visitors and locals have flocked to the unique venue to enjoy the great hospitality and stunning views of the Yarra River.

We caught up with owners Richie Ludbrook and Dave Sharry to take a trip down memory lane and get the scoop on their party plans.


Today marks Riverland’s 10th Birthday and we’ve heard whispers about some epic celebrations, are you really rolling back to the prices of 2006?!

Dave Sharry: We’re looking forward to celebrating with lots of our friends and customers from the past decade. We thought that taking the prices back to what they were in 2006 would be a nice gesture but also allow us to reminisce a little.

Richie Ludbrook: Yes, we were sitting around talking about turning 10 with the management team and discussing reference points in 2006 – music, food, fashion etc. and someone asked “how much was a pot of beer”. We all took a guess and looked it up and the recommended retail price from the AHA was $3.80. This lead to the idea of running 2006 beer and wine prices for the week of our birthday. We thought it was a great way of saying thank you to the Melbournians who have supported us so well over the years.


It’s hard to imagine Federation Wharf without Riverland, but pre 2006 the now thriving riverside was practically derelict. Who were the drivers of the original concept and how did it come about?

DS: We collaborated with Six Degrees Architects, Heritage Victoria, City of Melbourne and Federation Square management to develop a casual food and beverage concept to suit the site and space. We then refurbished the vaults and activated the large outdoor areas by including furniture, cover and service points.

RL: In the beginning Six Degrees were after a licenced bar in one tenancy and a separate café in another. I came from a hotel background and Dave came from a café background. It became obvious after a short time that the two should be amalgamated and Dave and I were introduced and the rest is history I guess.


Can you share a bit about what the bar was like when it first opened?

RL: Riverland opened for the opening of the Commonwealth games as the State Government were adamant that there couldn’t be a building site in the background of all the camera shots for the River Parade. Like most hospitality openings, we made it by a few hours – the only issue being we didn’t have a liquor licence so all our friends had to drink beer out of coffee cups with stealth. By design, it opened with limited food and beverage options as we wanted to keep it simple and concise. Oh yeah, it was quiet – really quiet.


How has Riverland managed to remain relevant in Melbourne’s evolving restaurant and bar scene?

RL: I think Riverland has remained relevant by staying relatively unchanged. It has always been blessed with a beautiful setting and we haven’t tried to impose ourselves on it too much. We have tried to stay true to the original concept of a concise offer of tap beer and simple food, and avoided the trap of trying to change with every new trend.

DS: By being consistent with both the product and the service and continually improving the physical spaces making it more comfortable for the customers

The venue recently underwent a renovation; what were you hoping to achieve with this?

RL: The recent renovations were really about trying to make the internal areas more comfortable and the outside a lot greener with plant life. We wanted Riverland to be a little more urban garden like and set about planting more trees.

DS: The trees allow the beer garden to blend in with the surrounds. Popstic Ice Cream now serves from one of the vaults – it’s handmade in Melbourne and a great addition to the mix in Federation Wharf.


Riverland has built up a loyal community over the years; why do you think Melbournians love this place?

DS: It’s a nice place to escape to on your own and also works well for a large group to assemble prior to an event or game.  Melbournians love a beer garden, particularly one that’s in the heart of the CBD and right on the water.

RL: I think Melbournians love Riverland because they can depend on it. They know when they descend those bluestone stairs a tranquil setting awaits. The fast pace of the city can be disregarded and people can just grab a drink and catch up with friends .I still find it remarkable that you can’t see cars and we are in the middle of the city. For me, walking down those stairs is like taking a dinner suit off and putting on an old pair of ripped jeans – when I put them on I feel comfortable and that I’m home. I hope other Melbournians feel like this.


What’s going to be the highlight of the four day birthday party for you two?

RL: I’m really looking forward to seeing a lot of friends, suppliers, loyal customers and colleagues at our party on Thursday night. I‘m also very excited about the collaboration we are doing with a great iconic Melbourne hospitality venue, Bar Lourinha, on Sunday 20 March. The guys from Bar Lourinha are taking over the BBQ serving Mat’s terrific food and I can’t wait to give it a go.

DS: A chance to celebrate with friends and customers on Thursday and to watch people use Riverland the way they always have.

Riverland’s 10th Birthday Party kicks off tonight at 5pm – head down to enjoy the live DJs and 2006 bar prices!