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
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.
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.
Owners Almay Jordaan and Simon Denman are describing their East Brunswick wine bar spinoff, Old Palm Liquor, as a pub. We’ve never been to a pub that serves over 300 low-intervention and biodynamic wines alongside 12 tap beers and a super-slick menu cooked over coals with a South African inflection before, but we like it. The majority of the wine list, except for a literal handful of wines, are low-intervention wines that have either received extended skin contact, have been aged in amphora, have little to no sulfur added to the bottle, or are several of these things all at once. Confused? Don’t be. Each wine has been coded with its farming practices and processes so you’re not reaching for service every time you get to the end of a glass.
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.
Melbourne’s reigning bar barons Michael and Zara Madrusan are pros at recreating these tiny universes, first giving us golden age classiness at the Everleigh, then rowdy breakouts of song at rock’n’roll dive Heartbreaker. We’re burrowing underground at their Paris-via-New York brasserie Bar Margaux, a place where oysters are shucked, Champagne popped and steaks sizzled until the tiniest of hours.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There should be another word for what Byrdi is doing. Bar doesn’t quite cut it, despite the fact that dispensing booze is at the core of what it does. It seems more like some kind of lab where you get to play guinea pig to their scientist. The drinks, made and served by a fleet of staff swaddled in crushed linen, are highly original and highly delicious in equal parts. There’s so much exciting technique here, plus a strong sense of seasonality. Techniques commonly associated with kitchens are front and centre – fermenting, smoking, clarifying – and the results are often thrilling.
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.
Simon Denton opened a wine bar in his building opposite Fitzroy Gardens. At Denton Wine Bar, he's offering a bottle shop service and an unfussy but precisely cooked menu of just six items (seven, if you include the special) that he describes as “food you’d get if your friend invited you over for dinner and isn’t a shit cook”. But that’s being humble. Kieran Hoop is the man in charge of the kitchen, and dishes change almost daily according to produce that is in season.
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.
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.
Angel Music Bar is the meeting of two very different minds. In one corner, you have Con Christopoulos, the powerhouse restaurateur with City Wine Shop, The European, Syracuse, Neapoli, Spring Street Grocer, Kirk’s, Kirk’s Wine Bar, French Saloon and Butchers Diner under his belt. In the other, you have Georgina O’Connor, one of Melbourne’s best-dressed, Gen-Y artist types, who is the ultimate cool girl. On paper, it is an odd pairing, but together, they’ve brought the sometimes low-key, always pumping Angel Music Bar to the CBD where the old Korova Milk Bar used to be. Music is front and centre, with a collection of records pumping out of Funktion One speakers specifically installed to fill the room with one of the most enjoyable soundtracks we’ve come across in a bar.
If the purpose of a local bar is to reflect its neighbourhood, then Tetto di Carolina obviously got the memo. The rooftop bar component of the Carolina complex on Toorak Road that includes Bar Carolina and Cantina Carolina is smooth, suave, expensively dressed and comfortably luxurious. Tetto’s conservative in its choices, but in a way that’s dependable, not old fashioned. The drinks riff on classics and lean towards the infused and the herbal. The Wall Street, for example, brings together surprisingly delicious sandalwood-infused bourbon with Martini Rubero and maple syrup. Served on the rocks, it’s a drink that teeters on the edge of overkill but rescues itself with its clean sense of purpose.
This kitsch, cutesy rooftop promises a raucous garden party in the heart of the city. Decked out with AstroTurf, parasols and pastel-pretty timber furniture, this sky-high hub has long been a favourite for summer sessions that kick off in the afternoon and end after midnight. Flirty staff kitted out in butt-skimming tennis gear ferry pitchers of fruity cocktails around the terrace. The tongue-in-cheek drinks list doesn't skimp on the double entendre, with plenty of mention of jugs, balls and oral pleasure. Yep. The Madame seems intent on making you blush, but chances are that rosy glow will be thanks to the sunshine and booze-sloshed cocktails.
It’s no secret that the hospitality industry is a huge producer of waste. Think about those plastic straws, empty bottles, plastic-wrapped napkins, cardboard coasters, paper menus and food waste. Ends and Means opened with a vision of being a low-waste and sustainable cocktail bar, and true to its word, it produces less than one bag of landfill a day. It’s not easy, but it means something to owners Marc Frew and Josh Hunt. All this sustainability doesn’t compromise the cocktails on offer. In fact, unless you were really paying attention, you wouldn’t even notice it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Beaconsfield isn’t exactly a destination suburb. We get it. But O.My Bar is here catering to the dozens of people who travel south-east to eat at O.My’s restaurant and the locals who have been dying to try something they can’t purchase from their local Dan’s. Believe it or not, it is a hit. O.My Bar seats 16, split between a high communal table and a handful of window seats in a simple, black-painted room with walnut furniture in the old Beaconsfield post office, where the feature is a Tom Samek artwork of a man sniffing wine inherited by Chayse Bertoncello (owner and sommelier) from Ramblr (RIP) due to his loyal patronage.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The city’s oldest pub has a secret. Loch and Key is hidden up a rickety staircase, behind a bookcase in the Captain Melville bar. It’s a handsome space of rich timbers, mounted deer heads and a broad deck lined with salvaged coffee tables, a beaten peacock-blue sofa and deep wooden banquettes. A blackboard menu lists the seasonal special, perhaps a citrusy, smoky blend of mezcal, Solerno and blood orange juice. But if that doesn’t grab you, leave your drink in the hands of the supremely capable bar staff, who'll ask you what you're craving and pour something appropriate, be that an Americano or a craft beer.
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.
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.
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 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. Their real showstopper is the out-of-this-world whisky and cheese flights that match 2016’s favourite spirit with cave-aged English Cheddar and 1,000-day-old Gouda.
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.
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