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.
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.
The Everleigh conquered the handcrafted, highbrow, olde-worlde cocktail experience in Melbourne. And then, six years in and with international acclaim, they decided to renovate. The new iteration of the Everleigh feels more evolved, and interaction with the bar is more encouraged than in the former days of strict table service. It’s spectacle without flair bartending, and more charming than ever.
Hayden Lambert must have gotten used to close quarters at Presgrave Place, because his current digs are almost as compact. His bar is a command centre at the heart of a tiny room, with only a handful of seats facing Lambert as he dispenses drinks that put the art back into artisanal. A bar entirely of his own vision, backed by the skill to execute such an ambitious feat is why we always want to drink cocktails at Above Board.
If you’re a true Melbournian, 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, with nothing over $15 by the glass and heavy leaning on the trendier labels, giving guests exactly what they want without compromising on standards.
Unlike its older, slightly more formal counterpart, 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 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.
One of the best things about Arlechin isn’t just that it’s open until three, it’s that the kitchen is along for the ride. You could be eating a tousle of spaghetti laced in a bright tomato sauce studded with garlic and capers or a Bolognese jaffle that could conjure up the Aussie-Italian upbringing you never had. Banging food, cocktails and wine until 3am, it’s a sure fire way to be a killer late night venue.
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.
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 on a chilly night they’ll fire up the open fireplace to turn the charm offensive up to 11.
If you’ve got something unique, you’re going to be a victim of thievery. Forget aesthetics, cocktail recipes and staff, one of the biggest problems at the multi award-winning Black Pearl is missing menus. To deal with it, they’ve done away with the collectable playing cards and simplified the menu to a folded A3 card, diner-style, packed it full of new cocktails and added a map of their favourite spots. They figure people are going to steal it anyways, so why not give them a reason.
The thing about always being ahead of the game is that sometimes it takes a while for people to see what you were doing. In 2016, all anyone wanted to do was drink amazing whisky while looking at the dumpster fire that was the year in review, but Whisky and Alement have been paving Melbourne nights with precious amber distills since 2010.
Low and Wong are like the Alexa of whisky. It’s probably why the bar has been designed long and narrow, like those in Japan, with plenty of seats available to perch at. It encourages you to sit up, browse the 300-strong library of stock the boys have painstakingly collected over the years and try something new to you and rare to the country.
You could describe Marion as a dabbler in the art of bistronomy, which is another way of saying it has excellent food and wine values while trying really hard not to show how hard it’s trying. It has some natural advantages over any competitors. For one thing, sharing the vast cellar of Cutler & Co means Marion can lay claim to being the best-stocked wine bar in the 'hood, but in reality there’s no need to venture beyond the shorter list purpose-built for Marion, stuffed with all kinds of vinous excitement by the glass.
There’s something particularly satisfying about walking into a bar with a big bag of take-out dumplings and dropping them on your table of beer-hungry mates. That’s the move at Mr West, Footscray’s newest venue for lovers of good booze. They offer simple meat and cheese boards themselves, but are happy for you to bring your own nosh from the myriad of local take away joints
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.
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 nature, 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.
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.
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 over wines by the glass that balance approachable and more out-there natural stuff, lit by a giant, glowing picture of the eponymous heavenly orb. You’re unlikely to find a Kiwi Sav Blanc or a Barossa Shiraz, and they won’t hold your hand unless you ask, so dive in and be impressed.
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.
If you dig whisky and an ever-evolving roster of craft beers on tap, then Boilermaker House should rate highly on your lips. In fact, it’s the home to one of the largest collections of whisky in Melbourne, boasting a library of 700 offerings. From the Lonsdale St entrance, Boilermaker House is completely unassuming- a signature mark of the Speakeasy Group who also have EDV in their roster. Through the gigantic doors, the bar opens up to a brash explosion of bodies, blues and brews.
The Shady Lady
The Shady Lady has transformed the old Houndstooth on Johnston St 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 minimalist blonde wood and prohibition-style bars. The Lady encourages boatloads of fabulous, daggy fun. And what is more daggy than a good, ol’ frozen cocktail?
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 a city whose subterranean spaces are sorely underused. 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.
To get better acquainted with tequila’s smoky, sultry cousin, mezcal, 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.
A year in the life of a bar is a milestone, so when Gin Palace turned 20 this year, Vernon Chalker made sure to put on a most elaborate show. Gin Palace took over Russell Place and handed over even more luxe, free-flowing gin, and made sure to celebrate the familiar faces who have helped make them become the CBD staple for long, gin-soaked nights all these years.
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 before a great Dane decided to explore our scorched land, appropriating his findings with his nomadic restaurant concept.
This Parisian inspired wine bar in Fitzroy dishes out and all day menu and cocktails and vino in the evening. You'll see a big emphasis on local produce. Order small plates of buffalo mozzarella, herbs and ripe organic tomatoes; apertifs with house infused lemon verbena vermouth; sandwiches loaded with pickles, jamon and cheese; and super plates of roasted chook.
Fresh produce is serious stuff at Union Electric. While many bars may avoid using too many raw ingredients, Union Electric rely heavily on daily pressings of fruits, shrubs of micro herbs and house-made vinegars and syrups to bring their menu to life. A section dedicated to spiked apple juice is a cheap and cheerful way to take in the sun from their courtyard. Plus it'll only cost you $11 for the freshly pressed juice, with a touch of citrus and a choice between rum, gin or whisky.
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.
Take heed: Longsong is no holding bar for the mothership, in the vein of Gogo/Chin Chin’s symbiosis. This is despite the evidence of a devoted drinking area to the street side of the broad central bar, where you can down house spritzes, made with house-infused vermouth, or a punch bowl sized for downing with friends. The menu proper is something that is not so much Thai or even Thai-ish but a document that might have once been waved in the direction of the kingdom of Siam.
Eau de Vie was once one of those hidden bars that would take you a good chunk of time to find, but now, it’s one of the worst kept secrets in Melbourne. The American prohibition era premise hasn’t changed, even though the trend has been left behind. 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.
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.
Hamish Goonetilleke has been working on giving rum a good name, and 5 years on, we’d say he’s given it a good spin. The Rum Diary Bar is a bit of a dark den; it’s nautically themed, but you feel like you’re below deck. A pirate’s life, eh? It’s easy to be swept up by this sugarcane-based spirit and willingly give in to being soaked in the stuff until the wee hours of the morn.
There’s a lot to like about Heartattack & Vine. It's inspired by Italy, the country whose 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. Cicchetti, Italy’s version of tapas, are tiny bites made to accompany drinking. The volume, variety and quality here are hard to overstate, and put most other attempts at aperitivo to shame.
It’s a misnomer to merely label Hats and Tatt’s a frat bar. That’s what they’d like you to think, but once you scratch beneath the surface you’ll find a 100-deep whisky collection, some ace cocktail making and taps that pour a lot more than just beer. They've created something unique to South Melbourne- it’s not quite a fraternity, but a new kind of community. Frat bar by reputation, but not by nature.
The original Hawthorn outpost of Araliya has been operating for over thirty years. Next came the St Kilda edition, adding to the list of places in the city for kick-ass Sri Lankan. And now they’ve added a bar concept where you can eat the traditional Sri Lankan street food, a rice flour and coconut milk crepe moulded into a bowl shape and used as a vehicle for all sorts of aromatic delights, plus ace cocktails.
House of Correction, the cocktail bar downstairs from the Goldilocks rooftop, is just plain-and-simple good. You’re funnelled down a hallway panelled in frosted glass. At the end, you’re greeted by a well-dressed host who offers a choice between a staircase up to the rooftop or a seat inside in a booth or at the long bar that has eight of the comfiest stools around.
It’s a brave thing to open a wine bar across the street from Neighbourhood Wine, and a couple of blocks from Gerald’s Bar. But after a year of operation, Little Andorra in Carlton North has proven itself worthy, carving out its own identity and nailing the cosy neighbourhood style in an area heavy on options.
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.
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. It’s his response to a city sidelining all-out dining for sharp drinks and snacks, and the best thing to happen to the South’s bar scene in years, if not ever.
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. Just like a ski lodge should, Leonard’s has an air of instant comfort. The room is entirely surfaced in untreated pine, with warm lighting, plenty of open space and a roaring fire.
Despite our chagrin with American politics, our obsession with the food and drink of the USA seems to know no bounds. 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 panelling and taxidermy for days.
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 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 queuing, otherwise the juicy tang and fresh kick in the Tommy’s Watermelon Margarita is a just reward for your patience.
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.
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. From the moment the doors open local suits and 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.
Imagine if someone took a little European café and Marie Kondo’ed 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.
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. You can also drink anything from the adjoining Prince Wine Store for $15 corkage.
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, a 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.
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 plus experimental brews. It’s all about the shooters, slammers, chasers and cocktails here.
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.
So what is in a name? Would a pintxos by any other linguistically intimidating name taste as trendy? Naked for Satan, sporting a risqué moniker, a super-fun style of snacking and a killer rooftop with some of the best views of the city, is a very good time and a failsafe spot to impress anyone from out of town, providing the weather holds.
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.
Looking for something to eat?
Unless you have the metabolism of a nine-year-old, and the finances of a Kardashian, you never stand a chance against Melbourne's ferocious dining machine. The openings just don't stop and ain't nobody got time to keep on top of what's what. Except us, that is. So behold, our eat-and-destroy list – a guide to Melbourne's 50 best restaurants.