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 has hardly been under threat. But for the ever-ambitious Michael and Zara Madrusan, nor has it been enough.
First, there was a big renovation. Then another. Where the Everleigh of yesteryear could at times feel a little removed, the Everleigh of today is breezy and generous, with plenty of seats at the bar, standing space for those passing through, and room for merrymaking groups. They even serve a formidable dinner now, with rustic Italian such as meatballs in chilli sugo and pillowy pesto ricotta gnocchi, although we still swoon hardest for inspired snacks like ‘boozy pickles’ and an achingly good ham and Gruyère melt with the zing of Worcestershire and whisky shallots.
When it comes to cocktails, the Everleigh forgoes puffed-up ingredient lists and fleeting fashions for perfectly executed traditional libations and modern classics. The flavours of a Mojito are reconfigured then shaken and strained into the Miami, with a potent mint liqueur jolting awake light rum and lime. And we can’t shake the memory of a Catavino, its light profile belying a rich trove of aromas from Amontillado sherry, Cocchi Americano and orange bitters. For a gamble that always pays dividends, put your chips on the bartender’s choice, the bar’s way of bringing the “tell me what you like” experience to table service. Ask for your cold to be cured and you might get prescribed a Medicina Latina: ginger, honey and lime punctuating smoky mezcal. Professing a partiality to Negronis might result in a worthy update that toys with the added grassiness of Suze and Barolo Chinato’s bittersweet fortification.
The Everleigh recognises that going out for cocktails is an indulgent and expensive thing to do, and it rises to the occasion accordingly. You get the exacting standards, beautiful surrounds and whip-smart service of a high-end bar in London, but without any of the stuffiness. Sparkling water, palate cleansers and dilution-minimising ice cubes aren’t the kinds of things that make a bar, but at the pointy end they show a devotion to the experience that sets the best ones apart. And now, by opening up the space, the bar’s inviting more of Melbourne to enjoy its spoils. This is why, more than ever, the Everleigh is where we go when we’ve got a date to impress or an out-of-towner to show our great city off to. It’s our best drink forward.