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.
While Hats and Tatts styles itself after a frat bar, most nights you’ll find yourself sitting with South Melbourne locals and office workers knocking off with a few curbside beers, occasionally throwing furtive glances to the Kittens strip club across the street. Sit at the bar under the watchful eye of a poster of Tom Cruise in the 1988 blockbuster Cocktail and you’ll soon be introduced to the 400-strong booze collection. Sure, you can down a PBR, but do yourself a favour and trust the bartender with your order. Wizey Baleitavuki will whip up a killer Old Fashioned with bourbon or rye from the more than 100 bottles on the shelf.
Melbourne suffers a major identity problem once the warm weather hits. The cosy bars that housed you through rainy winter nights with whiskeys and bottomless glasses of pinot are just not suited to Melbourne’s hot summers. So, where to now? The answer is Montereys on Chapel Street. It's open, sunny, and oh-so-fresh and is providing a dose of polish to an untapped block on the South Yarra strip. Welcome to your new summer hang out. Like the hidden seafood shack of your wildest dreams, Montereys is all soaring ceilings and wooden finishes. The white-washed walls are dotted with nautical curios, from mounted trout to vintage fishing nets, and the bar is a sturdy, old-timey number.
This neighbourhood bar has a bit of a share house feel to it. The window shutters and front door are left wide open and there’s a world globe behind the bar along with some vinyl records. And in an age where dingy dive bars are a dime a dozen in Melbourne, walking into Misery Guts, which is filled with natural light, feels like going on a holiday to up north. George Harrison sings ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ as we order our drinks (classic hits are another share house requirement), and there are the usual suspects on tap including Coopers pale, Mornington lager and 4 Pines pale ale. Maybe this really is just your mate's place in disguise.
Chinatown is still an underrated part of the CBD when it comes to bars. Union Electric is changing this by combining Melbourne’s love of hidden bars, cocktails and dumplings. It’s an open, former warehouse space that looks like an old boat shed, and the bartenders are a friendly bunch who remember regulars’ orders and do a mean Suntory whisky highball. Cocktails are jazzed up with more than a little something extra; the Kaiju is a potent number with Scrumpy cider, Green Chartreuse and zingy lemon and ginger.
Until recently, finding classic cocktails and classic service in the Toorak, South Yarra and Prahran area was a tricky business. You’d need to either head north to the CBD or south to Windsor to find the cut crystal and suspendered ‘tenders you seek. But into this gap in the market as wide as Sir Winston’s waistline steps Rufus; a Churchill-themed bar named after his prized poodle, with all the Veuve and velvet anyone could ask for.
Naked for Satan is a dark and moody affair downstairs, yet one elevator ride away lies a rooftop bar area seemingly custom-made for good times. Known as Naked in the Sky, this part of Naked for Satan has cracking views of the CBD, a blockbuster wine, beer and spirit list, and a combination of indoor and outdoor seating. The wine menu covers all bases from Spanish rosé to McLaren Vale shiraz while the eye-watering array of vodka spans Polish Zubrowka to 666 Butter Vodka from Tasmania. There’s also whisky-infused Texas Iced Tea, unpasteurised beer on tap for the purists, and a genuinely good jasmine-tinged mocktail for the abstainers.
The original Harry and Frankie (there’s also one in Fitzroy now) nails neighbourhood wine bar like few others, providing a relaxing spot perfect for a casual glass on the way home. Super-friendly staff offer on-the-money wine recommendations and make solo expeditions feel as convivial as hanging out with mates. The house white on tap by Arfion sees pinot grigio and fiano combine for a surprisingly textural and complex drop at $8 a glass, while crisp duck ribs come piled high for sharing and pair perfectly with the recommended Toscana. There are craft beers, interesting single malts, sherries and a broad selection of European cider.
Tequila’s smoky, sultry cousin, mezcal, is having a moment. To acquaint yourself with the seductive agave liquor, head to the Parliament end of Little Bourke Street and follow the bordello-esque red glow at the base of the Crossley Hotel. Here you’ll find Bodega Underground, a gritty-cool basement bar that riffs of the spirits and street foods of Mexico. Straight up, order a shot of mezcal and a shot of verdita, a punchy blend of pineapple, jalapeno, coriander and lime. The mezcal comes in a tiny ceramic teacup, which co-owner Jules Downing sourced on a research trip to Mexico. Take a sip of the mezcal, followed by a sip of the spicy, cleansing verdita. And repeat.
Named after Jackie Onassis/Kennedy’s hard-drinking, high stakes gaming father, Bouvier brings a little bit of old-school Americana to Brunswick East. The simple, unfussy black-and-white fitout is reminiscent of the classic drinking haunts you’ll find in any city in America, however the service and drinks list makes this bar distinctly Australian. You’ll find chardonnay from the Margaret River, riesling from the Clare Valley and zibibbo from McLaren Vale, alongside French, Italian and Spanish drops. Staff here are all about slinging cocktails. Bouvier offers everything from a Pickled Lemon Martini, to a blood orange Margarita, and an Espresso Martini that packs a knockout punch just like its namesake, local boxing great Cocoa Jackson.
A big smile and the smell of charred jerk chicken greet you at the door to Pretty Mama. It's the kind of spot that lifts your mood instantly after being sliced through with Melbourne wind. Old, old reggae lilts easily through the air while potted palms and cool pastel colours calm the grumpiest heart down to island speed right away. Sitting up at the comfortable concrete bar you can watch the guys in the immaculate open kitchen, clad like the rest of the crew in tropical print shirts, cranking out a variety of excellent Caribbean inspired dishes.
The bartenders at the Rooks Return are putting Melbourne bar staff on notice. The new gold standard is introducing yourself by name. And what a difference a warm welcome makes in a neighbourhood known for often taking the slacker vibe too far. There’s a courtyard out back, but the indoor space is where it’s at thanks to a small stage where jazz hepcats and bluegrass outfits do their thing. The wine list is all-Australian (except for a ring-in from Argentina). Beer favours craft brews like the Feral Brewing Company Hop Hog Pale Ale and a highly drinkable lager from Forrest Brewing Company. All the usual cocktail suspects are represented plus nine inventive creations.
This bar is named after the year in which the word ‘cocktail’ first appeared in our vernacular, and they take the art of cocktail making very seriously here. From the 1930s gentlemen’s clubs of Philadelphia to the classy small bars of Florence and the beaches of Brazil, the cocktails seduce you with curious backstories, but it’s the skill of the staff here that seals the deal. If cocktails don’t tickle your fancy, there’s a modest wine list that reads like a rich retiree’s holiday itinerary, stopping in California, McLaren Vale and Burgundy, but if all your heart desires is the clean, crisp wash of a lager, they get theirs custom-brewed in collaboration with Cavalier Brewery.
Together with Mark Hopkinson and Renton Carlyle of Richmond café Romulus & Remus, Kubis has worked his magic on an old milk bar on Commercial Road, turning the skinny terrace into a sexy slip of a wine bar. Taking a stylistic cue from its older siblings, the Alps teams exposed bricks with honey-toned timbers and flattering, flickering candles. At the back of the building, the intimate ‘Cabin’ room works a cosy ski chalet vibe, thanks to its cast-iron brazier and cushioned banquettes.
In its former life as a notorious gentlemen’s club, this terrace was a hub for some of Melbourne’s shadier characters, but there’s nothing insalubrious about its current incarnation. 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.
With white walls, an immaculate bar and smooth timber tables, this place scrubs up nicer than any saloon we’ve ever set foot in. As a framed photo of lawman and barman Pat Garrett looks down on us and Charles Bradley wails “why is it so hard… to make it in America?” as we peruse the beer list: a swag of greats of the American craft brewing scene (Anchor Steam Beer, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale) plus experimental brews like the potent Resin Imperial IPA from Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery and the malty, smoky Dirty Bastard Scotch Ale from Michigan’s Founders Brewing Company.
Despite the name, Good Heavens isn’t a pearl clutching kind of place. Melbourne’s latest 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. They clearly got the memo on the 2016 Pantone colours of the year, and the combo makes the venue feel summery even on a gloomy day when you’re forced under cover. From the moment the doors open bar hunters with their finger on the pulse start staking their claim on the precious rooftop real estate so that they can spend an evening lording it over Bourke Street while Hawaiian shirt-clad staff shake up vintage tipples at the central island bar.
If you want to know about the food at the Beaufort, look no further than the truffled mac’n’cheese, with grated gruyère and a crushed Cheezel crumble. Yes, those nuclear orange puffs of nothing have been press-ganged into a trailer-trash garnish that actually works (salty! crunchy! cheesy!). Ike's Rack Shack, a one-eyed, bandana-wearing southern US barbecue with a Bowie knife in the belt, is the perfect dinner companion for the Beaufort’s dive-bar credentials. Even the pickles are deep fried and slathered in ranch sauce.
Collingwood’s newest cocktail bar is the brainchild of Hayden Lambert, former head bartender at Bar Americano, and who also worked under Sean Muldoon in Ireland, now owner of the world’s #1 rated bar, Dead Rabbit in New York. The tiny room is almost filled by the bar, a command centre in the middle of the room behind which Lambert dispenses hand-crafted tipples. You have no choice but to focus on what’s in front of you and the craft that went into making it. If it all sounds a bit stuffy, never fear, Lambert’s dry sense of humour is anything but formal. The Old Pop sees tequila shaken with cumquats and chestnut liqueur. The glass is frosty cold, the ice is hand cracked, and the cumquat garnish is perfect in its simplicity.
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 and the spirits selection includes everything from rare brandy and grappa to local gin and Japanese whisky.
You know what Melbourne needs more of? Whisky bars. You know the best two soldiers in the struggle to provide one for us? Yao Wong and Kelvin Low, both previously of Whisky and Alement (Wong more recently of The Everleigh). These charming gents have struck out on their own with the freshly opened Elysian on Brunswick Street, and it’s glorious. The tiny shopfront is wood panelled and cosy, dominated by a huge slice of polished Californian redwood for a bar and the spectacular collection of bottles behind it. The selection is over 90 per cent single cask and private bottling – the rare and wonderful from the world of single malt.
Backing onto a cobbled laneway, with a mamma’s-kitchen Italian menu written in hand on the green tiled walls, this city wine bar could easily be an enoteca in the shadow of the Colosseum. Melbourne is good with wine bars like that: authentic, delicious, no-frills. Fun fact: the site for Kirk’s was once home to Kirk’s Bazaar, a horse-trading pavilion built in 1840, only now they trade in semillion not stallions. The venue was crafted by the dream team behind the European, City Wine Shop and Spring Street Grocer and they’ve kept faith with those venue’s much-loved rustic fare, featuring house favourites like steak tartare, caprese salad, niçoise salad, and the best charcuterie in the CBD.
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-blonde varsity ski team crowd. The new venture from Guy Bentley and Mark Catsburg, part owners of Sweetwater Inn, plus former Sweetwater bar manager Jonathan Harper and chef Nick Stanton (Longhorn Saloon, Nieuw Amsterdam), occupies a corner bluestone just off of Chapel Street in South Yarra.
Local spirits and Lamington jaffles. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Well, maybe it isn’t. Mexico has tequila and tacos. America has beer and hamburgers; so why can’t Melbourne have Australian spirits and sealed toasties? That’s what owner Sebastian Costello thinks, anyways. He has opened Bad Frankie in the old Bar Paradiso site, which once housed the neighbourhood’s favourite so-kitsch-it-was-good café, Felice’s. Walk into the small lounge and bar and you’ll see tea candles in Mason jars acting as lamps, a mirror running around the wood-panelled walls to trick you into thinking the space is larger than it is, and rope hanging from the ceiling.
Ronnie Di Stasio is a legend. Art lover. Lady admirer. A man of the old school of hospitality who knows when to cross a palm with a free drink, and when to tell a customer they are in fact not right. Allegedly, he recently rang a no-show booking at 3am to ask if they still wanted their table. He was the first restaurateur to start hanging Bill Henson originals in his dining room. And here, on Fitzroy Street, joined at the hip to his eponymous landmark restaurant where the big-spend, big-wine, long lunches of the heady ’80s live on as strong as ever – he’s opened a bar.
They’ve just added an upstairs bar to cope with the overflow – a what-took-you-so-long move that, after ten years, is testament to Bar Lourinha’s enduring popularity. But 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.
Cherry Bar doesn’t need to be convinced of its status as a legend. This is a venue that refers to itself as “pretty much the best rock’n’roll bar in the world”; a venue that an infatuated Noel Gallagher once offered to buy; that turned away Lady Gaga’s request for an after party because a local band had already been booked. In its 17 years, this rough-and-ready dive bar has shaped Melbourne’s live music culture, pushed for positive change in the music industry and pulled more pints for off-duty rock stars than we could drink in a lifetime. Seven nights a week, the bar’s soft red glow illuminates the graffiti on AC/DC Lane and ensnares young revellers and weathered rock dogs making their Cherry pilgrimage.
Despite our chagrin with American politics our obsession with the food and drink of the USA seems to know no bounds. The latest addition is Freddie Wimpoles*, occupying the ground floor of The George Hotel in St, Kilda. In America they don't have pubs (apart from deliberate imitations) but rather neighbourhood sports bars. Freddie does a pretty good impression. This could be a trendier version of a bar from True Blood or Roadhouse, with neon beer signs, untreated dark wood paneling and taxidermy for days (including fat chickens, a large ferret and an impressive elk gazing out benevolently from above the bar).
Just because your house is kitted out in IKEA doesn’t mean you can’t go live the luxe life on a shimmering velvet lounge suite at veteran Melbourne joint the Gin Palace. Sure, it looks like the entrance to a gentleman’s club, but inside it’s a plush, low-lit juniper den where a gin-based Zombie will cost you $33, and a gin and tonic can cost the same as a Martini. That Gin and Tonic is a generous slug of dry Plymouth gin with a citrusy tonic syrup served in a huge Spanish balloon glass with flowers and micro coriander so that it smells as fresh as a country garden. If you don’t like to be hurried when you’re indulging order the gin Old Fashioned. It’s a quality sipper and the flavour evolves as the dilution changes.
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. You can keep your kit on if you’re dining in the front room, home to padded bar stools and tiny, shrunken tables for two, with leafy views over Treasury Gardens. If you’ve booked a spot in the plushly carpeted top-tier dining space, however, you’ll be asked to slip off your shoes before sliding under one of the low-slung tables.
Lûmé has been evolving ever since it first opened in a blaze of ambition a smidge over a year ago. But the Lûmé of now is not the Lûmé of then. There’s more choice in the dining room, for one, but the big news is that the bar food is matching the main game punch for punch, without anything to scare the commitment-phobes. There’s symbiosis between the two menus, of course – how couldn’t there be, when there’s no separate bar per se, more of an undefined area of comfy chairs and drinkers worshipping at the feet of Nick Tesar and Orlando Marzo’s cocktail program? And kudos to them – it’s hard to impress a bartender and across Melbourne they all say Lûmé is where it’s at – but for current purposes, we’re all about the food. The best bar food in Melbourne, to be precise.
While new apartment developments continue to tower over Collingwood’s previously grungy surrounds, all is not lost in the ’hood. Just a few hundred metres off Smith Street’s shiny new Coles is Lazerpig, whose winged pig neon signage beckons to punters. This former men’s shelter (and later pub) is today a slashie bar (as in bar/pizzeria/disco) that will see you go from eating pizza in the dining room with your mum to busting a move in what little room you have between the DJ booth and the bar counter.
Dingo's Collingwood might just have conjured up a whole new theme: Let's call it High-end Suburbia. Wait, no: Gumleaf Chic. You need to imagine Jenny Kee and Slim Dusty got together one night over a couple of tinnies and decided to open a bar – that’s what we’re looking at here. 'It would need colour', says Jenny. 'And a bloke’s back shed feel', says Slim. A few cans of aqua paint and some sprigs of native flowers in a Melbourne-Bitter-can-vase later and you have Dingo's. This place nails Melbourne’s Northside vibe: weird, welcoming, and completely original.
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. Swap your rosé tinted glasses for the orange variety, specifically a bottle of the 2011 Pheasant Tears Katheti from the Georgian Republic.
There’s a lot to like about Heartattack & Vine. Even if you’ve never set foot inside, you can appreciate a venue named after a Tom Waits album. And it feels like this is the place that Lygon St, needed. It's inspired by Italy, the country who’s immigrants gave Melbourne hospitality its heart, but unlike the old-school Italian cafes that define this strip of Carlton, Heartattack looks forward to a bright future of casual eating and drinking, not back to a nostalgic past. The tiny shotgun venue manages to feel bright and open, with antique glass lights hanging from old metal window frames lending warmth and depth to the room.
For the uninitiated, walking into a tiny sandwich shop and yanking open their refrigerator door seems rude, but that’s how you get to the rum cocktail bar out the back. Popping into Jungle Boy (out back of Boston Sub) for a tiki drink is not unlike stepping through a portal that takes you from bustling Windsor to a little pocket of the tropics. Here you can perch up at the bar with a Hemingway Spritz, the long, cool, love child of a grapefruit and maraschino Daiquiri and Italy’s beloved afternoon refresher. Or go for something brighter and punchier, like the B Bizzle Swizzle that packs rum, lime, falernum and nutmeg in with a whole lot of ice to prop you up and cool you out.
Heartbreaker is the kind of bar that gets better the later the hour. As the black leather booths and bar stools fill up, the rock-heavy jukebox spins louder, dirtier hits, and billiard balls clack more aggressively. While head honcho Michael Madrusan is best known for his benchmark-setting cocktails from the Everleigh (and hand-cut ice business Navy Strength Ice Co), the only cocktails here are the bottled variety, but we’re still talking classics. There’s a Negroni, Martini, Old Fashioned and a Manhattan. Your poison here is likely to be the Australian and American craft beers served in US pints (16oz) and the occasional slushie in warmer months – the Corpse Reviver No. 2 one is a straight shot of Dutch Courage on ice.
This backstreet bar is a classic two-man show, with Jess Ho (ex-Time Out) and Wiremu Andrews responsible for the whole kit and kaboodle: drinks, food and spiritual guidance. Which makes it all the more remarkable that they manage to conjure some of Melbourne’s best bar snackage despite the labour shortage and a co-sharing arrangement with the St Ali kitchen (they get to use it when St Ali closes). So bravo that their teeny-tiny waiters’ station gives Being John Malkovich a run for the smallest portal to magnificence. Their bar snacks are good booze-soppers, which you’ll need, because boy do these two know how to sell booze.
While Melbourne is known for its relaxed bar culture, the Lui Bar does things a little differently. Firstly, it’s located in a skyscraper. Secondly, thongs, ripped jeans and leisurewear aren’t welcome, so check yourself in the mirror before attempting to ascend 55 floors to imbibe in one of Melbourne’s finest bars. For those that decide to spiff up and get past the concierge staff, the Lui Bar rewards with classy cocktails, boutique ales and killer views. On a sunny afternoon, nab a window spot and bunker down with a glass of Yarra Valley Rose and a serving of oversized lamb and pork sausage rolls and you’ll feel like the world is yours as the sun casts downtown Melbourne in movie-star light.
Andrew McConnell’s version of a wine bar is, naturally, a polished and delicious endeavour, all parts working in unison for a modern and user-friendly experience. The wide-ranging list sees bottles divided by style with headings like “Freshness and Depth” to guide you. But asking the ultra clued-in crew (they’ve foregone sommeliers in favour of educating the whole team) will result in erudite recommendations. You can also expect beautifully presented snacks like puckery pickled mussels or prawn and nasturtium rolls. Seating arrangements include the footpath for alfresco quaffing, stand-up bars for just popping in, or full tables for a proper feed, making Marion multi-purpose in all the right ways.
Surprisingly, a ten-person bar in a hard-to-find alley with no chairs is not a description of the worst place to drink in Melbourne – in fact it’s one of the best. This cupboard-sized establishment is where you go for serious cocktails, and when you’re here somehow you feel like you’re going back in time and crossing international borders simultaneously. The standing bar is reminiscent of those Italian cafés where they charge more if you want to do anything other than lean on the counter and neck espressi and tiny pastries, and even here they will make you a coffee, so long as you take it black or spiked with Amaro.
There’s not a jot of signage to tell you that you should tug on the brass handle of the heavy timber door in Malthouse Lane, but you should do it anyway, because inside there is a party happening every night of the week and it involves liquid nitrogen, smoke and open flames in a very tight space. It’s like dinner theatre, only boozy. Maybe you want a house riff on a Piña Colada that they serve in a big conch shell, or an Aviation that comes with a troll hair of fairy floss on top, or a Money to Burn that is set alight before you drink it. Or maybe you love the classics? That’s AOK because this is a very good place to order a Bloody Mary or a Martini.
This Fitzroy drinking den has been setting the standard for cocktails in Melbourne for years now – they are regularly counted among the World’s 50 Best Bars. Their stature is so great that they had to open a second space upstairs, the Attic, to catch the enthusiastic overflow from downstairs Thursdays through Saturdays. You can reserve a seat in the Attic where it’s table service, but downstairs is where you want to perch for a cocktail safari with highly experienced guides. If you’re ordering off the menu, maybe you want something herbal and slightly medicinal like the Chrysanthemum. At the other end of the scale there’s sweet, punchy fun to be had with an Artist’s Special. Or maybe you just want a perfect dirty Gin Martini, and this is certainly the place to get it.
In these days of no bookings/order at the bar, it’s refreshing to experience seriously polished service, and that’s what you get at the Everleigh. Look to the right of Belle’s Hot Chicken on Gertrude Street and duck into the door right on the corner, head up the stairs and emerge in a historical remnant of olde-worlde drinking: low lit and high class. If you’re travelling in a pack or just like a little enclosed space to canoodle in, opt for the big booths in the second room, but the crew here possess serious bar chops so if you care about what goes in your glass go for seat up near the bar so you can catch the action.
Oh Gerald’s, thy warm embrace is all that’s right and good with Melbourne hospitality. Sidewalk sitting long into the summer night recalls evenings in Paris, but even in the dead of winter, they’ll lend you a fluoro parka should you need to pop outside for a smoke. Inside, the little bar feels like it’s been there for generations, comfy and cluttered, watched over by a huge poster of a young Michael Caine. Service never takes itself too seriously and even on the busiest nights puts you instantly at ease. By the glass, there’s always something fun and engaging but never too challenging, and the staff know exactly how to read your mind.
‘Wine bar’ used to be a simple concept. But in 2017, nothing’s ever straightforward. Case in point: Embla, the city haunt celebrating both the unique (a bombastic Travis Tausend Robot! Semillon from the Adelaide Hills) and the everyday (from the same parts, a party-ready Gentle Folk pink fizz). It might help to know French natural wine freak Eric Narioo is a partner in the business. But whether you want to talk vino with co-owner Christian McCabe and his staff or you just want the juice, baby, Embla is not one for sneering. It’s an open-plan space, the bar segueing into the kitchen, where you can grab a ringside seat to watch the Town Mouse’s Dave Verheul sweating it over a wood oven and grill. His food is all killer, no filler. Let ’em call it a wine bar, but at Embla you’d be a fool to relegate the food to the cheap seats.
Common wisdom says that to get people to like you simply give them what they want, and that’s Boilermaker House’s MO in a nutshell. They have a jaw-dropping whisky collection that brushes the ceiling behind the gleaming white-tiled bar, and there’s some seriously hard-to-find gems hiding behind the front rows. Sure, it’s over $60 for a nip of the Heartwood Convict Redemption, but that might well be the last shot of this highly regarded Australian whisky in the city. When they say Boilermaker they’re not talking a quick shot and a shit beer -– the Islay Cure All involves a 12-year-old Caol Ila, a gently sweet and hoppy local IPA made with agave and a slice of salami. Yep, all seven Boilermakers involve a good whisky, a delicious beer and a little snack, all served on a wooden tasting tray.
It’s irony of the highest order – or perhaps just outrageous black comedy – that Loretta’s is named after the meat smoker that destroyed the owner’s previous business in a fire. True story. But there’s no love lost, because Loretta’s – the front bar at what used to be the North Fitzroy Star, the cutest little corner pub in town – is one of those places that make you feel smug simply for knowing it exists. It’s like a bar in time machine form. A place of old-school timbered magnificence with just a hint of the arch in the deft taxidermy touches. A place you want to linger longer, which is aided and abetted by Loretta (the smoker) out back, making bar snacks of wide repute for Loretta’s (the bar).
If it’s possible for a wine bar to be punk, then Liberty is the place. The sign, spray-painted over the old occupant’s, marks their claim to the Johnson Street shopfront. The wine is experimental, the food is outlandish and the whole approach is disruptive. You might get a Terre Silvate Verdicchio from Marche in Italy that smells like Spanish cider and roses but tastes like lemon curd and steel. Housemade vermouth, decanted from its huge glass jar on the bartop, comes on the rocks and aromatised with a spray of orange oils (they’ve forgone fresh garnishes in favour of tinctures). Beer and spirits, too, veer far from the usual. On the snacks front, Casey Wall, hailing from Rockwell and Sons, is letting his imagination flex in the kitchen.
Friends can be flaky, partners can get mean, but a good cocktail bar can make you fall in love with it over and over again, which is why we’re still hopelessly enamoured with Romeo Lane. They have struck that perfect balance of comfort and class: all your cocktails come in beautiful cut glassware; Tom Waits is on the stereo, followed by a little Stones and Levon Helm covering Springsteen; 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, under the steady hand of Joe Jones, whose palate is responsible for the best drinks in the city right now.
Whisky and Alement have been paving Melbourne nights with precious amber distills since 2010 – they knew that we would grow into that rare Finlaggan that tastes like salt water and fishing nets and, oddly, banana lollies. 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. And when the Japanese whisky trend hit with full force, these guys were prepped and ready.
More of Melbourne's best bars
The city's love affair with American barbecue shows no signs of cooling off. Our expectations on how good a bar snack can be keep getting raised and met. And our appetite for firewater has meant that no bar is complete without the inviting amber glow of a whisky collection front and centre. In fact, our enthusiasm for a stiff drink has led us to challenge the weather gods with even more rooftop bars. Let's raise a glass to this incredible city, the ace bartenders who make us feel welcome and the drinks that keep us coming back time again.
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Melbourne does hidden bars like no other city. In this list alone we've got a bar located down a tiny laneway, behind a fridge door and a bookshelf, and a closet of a bar that barely fits eight people. Consider this list a scavenger hunt of Melbourne's most interesting secret bars, and remember where they are for next time.
Whether you're looking for a bar in the north, south, east, or west of our fair city, we've has got all points of the compass covered. Walk into any of these top-notch wine bars and you're guaranteed service by staff who know what they're talking about, a great atmosphere, and of course, a solid wine list.
Whisky (or whiskey, if you prefer the American varietals) isn't just for hardcore drinkers with stomachs of steel. There are so many types of whiskies – from dark smokey drams to smoother malts – that all a drinker needs to do is find one that suits their individual palate. One of the fastest ways to do this is to find a bar with staff who know how to make a great recommendation.
Small-batch and craft gin companies appear to be popping up left, right and centre around Australia, and cocktail bars are lapping up the chance to create fresh cocktails made with some of the most nuanced and aromatic gins around. We're rounded up a few of the best places to get a refreshing gin drink.
Melbourne's craft beer scene has made waves in recent years that you can now find decent ales made a few suburbs away sitting pretty next to the hoppiest brew from Portland, Oregon. We've rounded up the best beer halls and cozy beer bars to sample the latest and tastiest microbrews.
"Where can we go to have after work drinks where we can also dance?" It's the cry that echoes around most of Melbourne every Friday afternoon, but the response is often a stony silence. Here we've rounded up places where you can sit back, chat and relax of a afternoon and get a little jiggy later on.