March 2019: Melbourne's bar scene continues to be the envy of the nation, and our late-night credentials only get stronger with every new opening. Our Bar of the Year for 2019, the Everleigh, claims the number one spot where you want to spend all your money, because it makes you feel like a million bucks. We've made room for new destinations like the thoroughly realised Clooney Kitchen and Bar, the gently Australian Galah, and the most anticipated pop-up in town, Fancy Free.
Here is Melbourne viewed through the bottom of a glass: from its world-beating cocktail lounges to its down-and-divey saloons. These bars represent the pinnacle of Melbourne drinking. Many of them are Time Out Bar Awards winners. Others take pride of place in some of our most popular guides, like Melbourne's best cocktail bars, wine bars and rooftop bars.
Above all, these bars have one thing in common: they are the very best this fine drink-swilling city has to offer.
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Time Out's 50 best Melbourne bars
Who could have guessed that in 2019 the Everleigh would only just be reaching the height of its powers? Eight years of brisk business and weighty awards, plus successful forays into bottling, books and even hand-cut ice have meant that its reign as king of the north is unchalleneged and a tipple at this beautiful cocktail lounge is the very definition of putting your best drink forward in Melbourne.
To drink at Liberty is to revel in the best of all booze. The only rule about each drop here is that it must be a superlative example of its style. Whether it’s wine, cider, cocktails, whisky, vermouth or even housemade soda, every item on the long menu is carefully curated, the variety and quality on offer hard to overstate. You should eat here, too. Raw beef is diced and mixed with capers and Dijon for a velvety texture, ready to be scooped mouthward by crisps of dehydrated polenta and sweet caramelised onion.
Congress’s pig’s head and green mustard sanga almost singlehandedly put Collingwood’s new wine bar on the map even before getting an Insta-shoutout from Nigella. As much adoration as this supersnack has earned, it does a disservice to the rest of the menu to stop there. Keep scrolling for precise, imaginative and flavour-first cooking. Congress’s early buzz has seamlessly transitioned into sustained success, and we’re always looking for an excuse to come back.
Melburnians never needed the succession of big international awards to know that the Black Pearl is where you go for a bloody good cocktail – though undoubtedly those accolades benefited the travellers who now flock to the bar as a checklist destination. Tash Conte’s family-run bar has been a beacon of excellence for 16 years now. Not content to sit pretty on tried-and-tested masterpieces, the list is always on the move, keeping step with moods and seasons.
Clooney might be young, but Shannon McFarland (The Rochester, Woodland House) and Will Crennan (Gin Palace, Collins Quarter) together have clocked decades in the industry, and it shows. The cocktail list confidently stretches from the elegant restraint of A Modest Proposal to the exuberance of the Screw Pine Delight. In the kitchen, Leigh Stanicic is also splicing textures and flavours, reaching across borders to put white anchovy frito inside crisp lettuce cups with kewpie mayo, chilli and mint, or fold ribbons of jamón over whipped pea and pickled shallots.
When Kirk’s opened in 2015 it immediately felt like a substantive thread in our city’s fabric, with its familiar, lived-in feel, confident service and mature wine list. At last, Spring Street sophistication had come to the shouty end of town. Years have passed, but it feels as essential as ever, proving that a classic wine bar, done well, never goes out of fashion. The list is as deep as it is broad, paying respect to all the old-world staples before giving equal ardour to trailblazing makers like Radikon and local innovators like Memento Mori.
If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that the popular vote can lead us down dark and shadowy paths. Which is why it’s a relief to see that the people of Melbourne are still wielding their powers wisely, anointing the Elysian Whisky Bar their favourite place to drink for a second year running. Key to this speciality bar’s success is the painstakingly built a 350-strong backbar of rare and independently bottled whiskies. Each bottle has been hand selected, resulting in an eclectic collection full of one-offs you won’t find elsewhere in the city.
The offering at Above Board is not just personalised, but personal. Sure, a chat with Lambert will help you determine if you’re after a classic or a signature cocktail (all $21), but you’re also getting a little bit of his life story with every drink he dispenses from the bar that is the heart and control centre of this tiny bar. There are only a hand full of seats, and all of them face the drinks action where Lambert is putting the art back in artisanal.
Here you'll find that perfect balance of comfort and class: all your cocktails come in beautiful cut glassware; Tom Waits is on the stereo, and on a chilly night they’ll fire up the open fireplace to turn the charm offensive up to 11. And we haven’t even got to the impeccable drinks list yet. Like all good hosts, these guys have a catalogue of recipes squirrelled away from former menus and the canon of classics, so all you need do is list off some keywords and they’ll magic up something delicious.
Whisky and Alement has been paving Melbourne nights with precious amber distills since 2010. These guys were also the first to have access to the limited-edition and crazy expensive Scotch Malt Whisky Society single cask bottlings – look for the dark green bottles with white labels and number codes in place of distilleries. Previously you had to shell out north of $200 for a bottle, but at Whisky and Alement suddenly you could buy it by the nip and get a taste of the high life for fewer dollars than your weekly rent.
Its destination-worthy food made it our 2018 Restaurant of the Year, and the one-in, one-out list of 100 wines shares the love between crowd pleasers and experimental fun. The venue feels dusted off, opened up and less stuffy. It makes use of the abundant natural light and licensed footpath, which shakes off the austerity of the past. A lick of white paint and classic Thonet furniture, and they’re laughing. It seems the neighbourhood has taken to the facelift, as the venue is packed every single night, inside and out, rain, hail or shine since it opened.
Gerald’s is and always has been bursting with personality: convivial, boisterous, eccentric, but at the same time, utterly approachable with a flawless soundtrack and a poster of a young Michael Caine watching over you. Sure, the wine list is a massive 200 bottles long, with a few bin ends, but the staff are helpful enough to decipher it for you. There are classic bottles from around the world sitting among the new, crazy, skin-contact wines the kids are quaffing these days.
Craft beer, good wine, better spirits and great cocktails are the big draws here. Tucked away in one of Footscray’s dilapidated strips and surrounded by internet cafés and discount clothing shops, it’s easy to miss. But persevere, and your reward is a crew where friendliness and passion ripple throughout, from the young guns on the taps to the folks in the wine shop. Behind the long bar there's a huge wall of 26 rotating taps to keep your attention piqued.
If you’re a true Melburnian, you’ve got the bar you go to play pool at, the bar with a solid wine list, the bar that can mix you a good drink, and the bar you go to just to smash a decent beer. Paradise Alley is all these things and more. The wine list is intelligent and balanced, sitting proudly next to a large collection of aperitifs, sherries and ports that are forcing Gen Y to change the way they drink.
A party-starting bar, with a rooftop, smack in Chinatown – what business does Union Electric have being really, really, good? It’s common knowledge that most CBD venues with similar natural advantages are content with steadfast mediocrity, but not here. The bar champions fresh produce, each day pressing, juicing and infusing all manner of fruits, herbs and botanicals. The team give extra vivacity to cheeky tiki cocktails and quenching highballs, though on sticky days it’s difficult to beat the quench of rum or whisky simply served tall over fresh apple juice.
Native ingredients are so on trend right now. Finger limes, muntries, quondongs and hashtags have been used and abused in the name of championing local produce. But Seb Costello, owner of Bad Frankie’s – a cocktail bar stocking only Australian spirits – had been on the native train years. Bad Frankie is a true-blue Aussie bar that puts jaffles, community sporting trophies and smart spirits utilising native ingredients next to each other.
If you like cocktails, whisky, blues, good service and eating Reuben sandwiches at 2am, Beneath Driver Lane is your basement of dreams. Occupying an old bank vault in the CBD, this bar has a Harry Potter feeling that’s rare in Melbourne. It’s a vision of rustic Victorian style: the brick arched booths, the walls cluttered with black and white photos, and the warm light from candles and low-hanging lamps are comfortable – the fit out and the sharp service to give this place a feeling that’s equal parts Melbourne, Chicago and Diagon Alley.
Boilermaker House is home to one of the largest collections of whisky in Melbourne, boasting a library of 700 offerings. From the Lonsdale Street entrance, Boilermaker House is completely unassuming – a signature of the Speakeasy Group, which also has EDV in its roster. Through the gigantic doors, the bar opens up to a brash explosion of bodies, blues and brews. You’ll be amongst a lot of city workers after knocking-off time finding solace in a whisky or a beer or both, and groups of bros nerding out on a bit of whisky education.
If there’s one word that could describe Cumulus Up, it’s balance: refinement without haughtiness; variety without intimidation; and quality without extravagance. It's a timeless venue that is still very much one of the nicest drinking experiences in Melbourne. You’d be forgiven for thinking the big, leather bound list at Cumulus Up is full of untouchable museum bottles that you’d never crack for casual drinks. Not so. Flipping through, you’ll find a long but impressively engaging and easy to use guide to wine varietals, and most sit nicely in the $50-$100 range, well worth it if you’re after more than a glass or two.
A grande dame of the Melbourne bar scene, this louche, basement-level cocktail lounge has been keeping people loose and liquored for just shy of 20 years. Its enduring appeal and unflagging sass make it the default drinking spot among the city’s post-shift bartenders, plus tie-loosened office workers and huddles of tourists. With a few drinks under your belt, the swathes of velvet, tapestry and animal print take on a bordello-chic vibe, and the admittedly wallet-stinging prices don’t hurt nearly as much.
Is Embla first and foremost a wine bar? That’s a quintessentially Melbourne question of existential proportions, up there with “Will the Demons win the flag this year?”. Anyone wanting to humour their assertion could simply point to a wine list that changes like a chameleon and where low-interventionism is the north star. It’s the kind of list where the words “organic” and “bio-dynamic” are only a sommelier away, but fear not: the strike rate here is far higher than at similarly ethosed places.
When you’re a bar opening at 11am each day it's necessary to think a little differently. The six-month pop-up has a cocktail list neatly divided into sections headed “no”, “low” and “full” reveals the no-booze brains behind the operation. One-third of its cocktails are alcohol free, clever drinks that happen to be zero proof. Every good bar has an origin story. Fancy Free is the result of a trio of bartenders from Black Pearl heading off into the world to seek their fortune.
Eau de Vie was once one of those hidden bars that would take you a good chunk of time to find. Now, it’s one of the worst kept secrets in Melbourne. EDV continues to be one of the busiest cocktail bars in town due to its ability to transport you out of the modern day and into the charms of yesteryear. But it isn’t just the jazzy soundtrack, private booths and staff clad in waistcoats that are the drawcard. EDV backs it up with some serious drinks and also a bit of flair.
Bar Tini is inspired by the Spanish bodegas you stumble upon by accident: where sherry and vermouth flow freely, cured legs of Iberico pigs are an acceptable meal, and premium seafood comes out of a can. The cheers here focus on fortifieds, with a big selection of sherries (six by the glass, 13 by the bottle) and a hefty wine list you’ll have to ask for, formatted by regions in Spain, with helpful description of the geography and what to expect from wines in those areas. This will prove particularly helpful as service is all at the bar, keeping in line with those casual vibes.
Romance isn’t dead, and neither is Romantica. Café Romantica, the legendary 24-hour pizza parlour-slash-dive-bar that closed after 30 years to much sadness, has been reborn as an inviting late-night wine bar and restaurant. Gone are the unforgiving fluorescent lights, laminate tables and $5 home brews, supplanted by candles, deep crimson booths and $28 bottles of sour ale. The pool table has been allowed to stay. More importantly, the pizza oven has also been granted amnesty, now producing Neapolitan-style slices with puffy crusts and floppy centres.
If we were in charge of Melbourne’s planning, we’d mandate that every neighbourhood have a place like Westwood. A place that can make you strong coffee and a croque madame in the morning, send you away with a fresh baguette for lunch, and welcome you back for wine as the sun shimmies under the horizon. There’s cheese and charcuterie to tide you over until dinner, when you should stay for a meandering meal. Enjoying that wine? Take it home – there’s a tiny shop in the back. Whatever you need, Westwood is here for you.
Galah’s point of entry might be a bottle-o, but a cursory squiz at the shelves neatly stacked with Si Vintners and cloudy pet-nats is your first indication that this bar is more bougie than bogan. No one is greasing the wheels with pints of Carlton or tangy Yellowglen – they’re using organic, small producer and minimal intervention wines from across our wide brown land. And given it might be new territory for some, a short, sharp list is a blessing – just ten Australian reds and whites, a Gippsland rosé and a single Champagne sneaking past border patrol like a well-connected au pair.
The Shady Lady has transformed the old Houndstooth on Johnston Street to be a self-proclaimed vegan-friendly, dog-friendly, LGBTI-welcome dive bar with a glam-shab décor. Orange tassel-covered lampshades, blue painted brick, disco balls and cabaret curtains are a refreshing change from the minimalist blond wood and prohibition-style bars littered around Fitzroy. The Shady Lady knows it is different and encourages boatloads of fabulous, daggy fun.
A nondescript, dumpster-strewn alley no more, Mornane Place has finally borne fruit with the arrival of a very late night bar with some seriously good eats. A city cannot have too many places like Arlechin. Beneath the sexily arched cork-lined ceiling lurks a place that feels like a subterranean clubhouse. It has long marble bar, seating for 40, clever lighting and a good part of the Grossi cellar stored behind glass like a votive offering to the god Bacchus.
The importance of good acoustics in a bar can’t be overstated, and it’s nice to be in a place where you can hear both the music and the conversation clearly. Beer is champion here, with 100 per cent craft on tap and plenty of Melbourne juice like Two Birds and La Sirenne. A cracking list of over 40 crafty cans includes plenty of sours, salty goses, and North East IPAs, alongside smashable lagers and pilsners. Wines mostly play the hits, but there’s an orange for the adventurous that’s sour and complex without being over the top.
The Moon feels more like the VIP room of a nightclub or a sleek cocktail lounge than a wine bar. The beautiful people of Collingwood gather to chat in the moody recesses of the black-painted space, lit by a giant, glowing picture of the eponymous heavenly orb. The list of wines by the glass is a good balance of approachable and more out-there natural stuff, with a slant towards Alsatian styles. To drink here, either a bit of knowledge or a sense of adventure are key.
Inside, there’s only room for six tables and a couple of narrow benches. A big chalk board on the high brick wall lists the wines of the day, and pastries beckon from a case on the counter. White tiles, old wood panelling and black bistro furniture lit by large globes hanging low over the bar will make you feel like you're back in Paris. With lofty ceilings and huge windows, the space is bright and cosy; breezy yet comforting.
Heartbreaker isn’t the kind of place you go to when you’ve got an early morning the next day. You will get swept up in the rock ’n’ roll, flowing shots, beer chasers and party-hard spirit the venue has cultivated over the last few years. Throw in that late-night New York-style slice and you’re in for some trouble with a whole lot of staying power. Sure, it’s a dive bar, but it isn’t a hovel. It’s a T-shirt-and-leather-jacket crew here, who like to dress every bit as rock’n’roll as the soundtrack.
Climb the stairs to the first-floor bar and restaurant to discover a clubby, handsome space of vintage bar stools, tapestry and brass. Take your time perusing Simon Denman’s 20-page wine list, peppered with natural beauties, impressive imports and little-known locals. Minimal-intervention, biodynamic and organic wines form the backbone of this commendable selection, and staff are only too happy to help you dip your toes into unfiltered territory.
Mezcal is a dangerous thing. Add tacos and a closing time of 3am, and you’re in for a riotous night. You’ll recognise Bodega Underground from the ominous red neon glow on the corner of Crossley and Little Bourke streets. Venture in and you’ll descend into a basement plastered in posters from the golden age of Mexican cinema – tits, ‘taches and Tecate. The tables and stools are more cantina than bar, and the prime place to be is perched up at the counter.
Peppered with quotes from booze-loving literary figures, the leather-bound menu reads like a love letter to sugar-cane spirit. Spanning 170 bottles, the list skips through the Caribbean, to South America, Mauritius and Spain, including white, golden, spiced and raw varieties. As expected, the Dark and Stormy is a crowd-pleaser, much like this dependable bar itself.
Wear your best socks if you plan on staying a while at Hihou. Once you’ve located the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance on Flinders Lane, near the corner of Spring Street, you’ll be ushered upstairs to a sultry sake den. Cocktails are also given reverential treatment, peppered with yuzu citrus, umeshu (plum wine) and shochu (grain spirit), carefully prepared with science-lab beakers, stirrers and fine Riedel glassware. It’s more refined than raucous, and Melbourne is all the better for it.
“Come in,” Di Stasio will say, beckoning you from hot street to the cool cave where red crisscrossed pipes meet crumbling walls preserved museum-style behind plate glass. “Have something to drink.” And you will. Sat at the smooth marble bar perhaps you’ll get in your cups with a Negroni Sbagliato (a bastard Negroni, thanks to added Prosecco – but a tasty one), or a measure of the Rabarbaro over ice. You won’t see that sweet medicinal liquor gracing many a bar around town and the same goes for the Birra Artigianale Di Farro.
This disruptive, all-standing, ten-person cocktail bar is modelled after the stand-up Italian cafés where you have a lean, an espresso, a pastry, and quickly leave. Don’t expect to have more than a couple of cocktails here; there’s usually a line of customers behind you waiting to get in and exerting the moral pressure. The list is unapologetically, exclusively classics. The staff make them with expert precision; Americano has produced some of the city’s best bartending talents.
The cocktail bar downstairs from the Goldilocks rooftop is just plain-and-simple good. The space has been completely redesigned from its somewhat awkward, fairy tale-themed predecessor. Now when you exit the lift onto level four of the building at 264 Swanston Street you’re funnelled down a hallway panelled in frosted glass. At the end, you’re greeted by a well-dressed host. The long bar has eight of the comfiest stools around; two-person booths run the length of the wall, while the next room holds private six-person booths looking out over the busy street.
Walking into Leonard’s is like finding the coolest house party at the ski resort, circa 1983: a place where staff kick back to rock’n’roll, drink whisky and make fun of the bleach-blond varsity ski team crowd. The room is entirely surfaced in untreated pine, there's a roaring fire, and the stained glass back bar is flanked by mounted longhorns and a mongoose valiantly fighting a cobra. Long hair, tattoos, denim and beanies are the uniform, but far from being a den of hipster judgement, this place is ultimately inviting, free from the snark that ruins some northside venues.
They're nailing the cosy neighbourhood style in an area heavy on options. Pull up a stool at the long bar and get stuck into the tight but super engaging list of wines by the glass. A white from Georgia, served in big, delicate glassware, is salty, chalky and tastes pleasantly like underripe cantaloupe. It’s perfect with a special of devilled egg powdered with excellent paprika. If devilled eggs and kick-ass Prosecco aren’t enough to chill you out, the calm, casual and ultra-knowledgeable service will help.
Few places in Melbourne feel more genuinely European than Bellota. From the soft French accent of the bartender to the tiled floor to the delicate Bordeaux balloons, everything has an old-world texture balanced with a clean, modern brightness. Wines focus on Europe with a fantastic selection of French by the glass and nods to interesting local stuff like an aromatic Assyrtiko (a Greek variety) from Clare Valley that’ll make your savvy-b weep with envy. You can also drink anything from the adjoining Prince Wine Store for $15 corkage (or none if your bottle is over $80).
This northern star delights with its vintage-chic décor, prime footpath tables, and service that is at once switched on and supremely relaxed. The team has good reason to be laid back, so assured is the food and drinks offering. A leather-bound menu delivers seasonal, balanced cocktails; the 40-strong wine list skips happily from the Adelaide Hills to Argentina; and the craft beers run from hyper-local to heavy-hitting imports.
A low-lit, mid-century-styled wine bar and café on Brunswick Street that feels like the result of someone taking a little European café and Marie Kondo’ing the hell out of it, paring it right back to tall white walls, blond timbers, flatteringly low lighting, a few choice art works and a shining Simonelli coffee machine on the bar. That’s the vibe here. The wine list reads like an 18 year-old’s gap year hit list with most of central and western Europe getting a look in, plus a whole lot of Victorian drops leading the local charge.
It’s barely sundown and the tiny corner bar on Thornbury’s High Street is a hive of activity, with staff squeezing and sliding past each other to take orders, pour beers and send food out to a swelling pack of hungry and thirsty punters. Given the divey, cobbled-together feel of the place, with its mélange of disco lights, wooden venetians, floppy pot plants and bolted spinny stools (from a previous life in front of the pokies at Brunswick RSL), you’d be forgiven for low expectations for the pizzas. But there’s wood-fired pedigree here.
It’s a misnomer to label Hats and Tatts just a frat bar. That’s what they’d like you to think they are. Scratch the surface and you’ll find a whisky collection more than 100 deep, some of the best cocktail making in Melbourne, and taps that pour a lot more than just beer. Hats and Tatts doesn’t fit the mould of being a steak-driven South Melbourne pub. It isn’t a place where the ladies go to lunch or be seen. But somehow it manages to grab the attention of both, as well as the youth, south of the river.
This massive outdoor eatery and beer garden sandwiched between two Melbourne icons (the Yarra River and Flinders Street Station) stretches for 120 metres along the river bank and is officially Melbourne’s longest bar. They’ve got Espresso Martinis and Aperol Spritz on tap for quick-fire service so you can spend more time kicking back and less queueing, otherwise the juicy tang and fresh kick in the Tommy’s Watermelon Margarita is a just reward for your patience.
Despite the name, Good Heavens isn’t a pearl-clutching kind of place. Melbourne’s summer hotspot is brought to you by the team behind Fancy Hank's, and the vibe at this rooftop bar is a little bit Palm Springs, with pink signage and pastel blue paintwork. Stake your claim on the precious rooftop real estate so that you can spend an evening lording it over Bourke Street while Hawaiian shirt-clad staff shake up vintage tipples at the central island bar.
This place at the Paris end of Little Collins just keeps on keeping on. Since it first opened in a blaze of then-novel Iberian glory it’s been best in show, not only on the drinks side but with co-owner Matt McConnell’s brand of Spanish and Portuguese tapas-style food. The trademark kingfish ‘pancetta’ with lemon oil and red onion remains as compelling as it was way back when, and the rest of the menu is pretty failsafe, too.
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