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 immense goodwill banked by owner-bartenders Yao Wong and Kelvin Low among the whisky-loving community. They’ve 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. When a whisky’s presence in the bar is the result of carefully built relationships or personal travels, it’s a privilege to drink these drams.
For those less committed to purist explorations of the spirit (or with less money to burn), try it in cocktail form. For a eminently reasonable $15, you can get a highball featuring the green and grassy Suntory Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve served over hand-cut ice, a dash of soda and whatever fruits or herbs take the day’s fancy. Or take your Old Fashioned to new heights by nominating a favoured whisky for them to use. Playful house creations include an espresso, Milo and condensed milk number spiked with Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve Single Malt, and the evening-closer Pu-er There Pal, which hits you with big and boozy Rittenhouse Rye before rounding out with sweet, toasty notes from smoked tea syrup and a herbal dry vermouth.
Anyone who’s been to Tokyo will be taken aback by how accurately they’ve recreated the intimate, back-alley whisky bars of Japan, down to the soft jazz and warm dark woods. To optimise your Elysian experience you’ll want to sit up at their long Californian redwood bar. It’s here that you’re granted a full vista of the precious amber wall that is the visual summation of Low and Wong’s years of effort. It’s also where guests are best positioned for the pair to strike up a conversation and take stock of your tastes, preferences and budget. Don’t be afraid to ask – they’ll know the histories, flavour profiles and applications of each and every bottle on their shelf, and are only too happy to share their encyclopaedic knowledge. It’s only a matter of time before you put your vote behind them, too.