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The bar at Eau de Vie
Stephanie ImlachThe bar at Eau de Vie.

Time Out Food & Drink Awards 2022: Best Cocktail Bar

These are the nominees for Best Cocktail Bar in the Time Out Melbourne Food & Drink Awards 2022

By Time Out in partnership with Impos
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Our respect to anyone who opens a cocktail bar in Melbourne: you’re playing with the big boys and girls now. We can be smug indeed about the breadth and depth of our cocktail bar scene, which has won more international awards than Cate Blanchett and boasts something to satisfy every whim. Do you enjoy chugging your tipple of choice from a Viking horn? So you love nothing more than a grandiose tropical cocktail thanks to that P&O cruise you took in the 1970s? Come to Melbourne. Enjoy.

There’s plenty afoot in the bar scene right now. We’ve finally come to grips with the fact that single-serve pre-batched cocktails aren’t the work of the devil and can in fact improve customer service. We’re seeing bartenders engage in an arms race as they hunt down rare, artisan spirits crafted for specific drinks; we’re witnessing them taking up aprons to get down with preserving the tang of fruits and veg like old-time farmsteaders. We’re seeing the dawn of the cocktail cellar era, in which they’re aged in the manner of fine wine.

It’s all terribly exciting but the good news is, you don’t have to be a card-carrying cocktail nerd to enjoy Time Out’s Best Cocktail Bar shortlist to the max. You can order your next mixed one safe in the knowledge these bars have done the thinking so you can enjoy the drinking.

From Black Pearl and Gin Palace, hallowed institutions that paved the path to city-wide greatness, to the single-minded specialists such as Whisky & Alement; from the minimalist Above Board, the cocktail equivalent of an arthouse cinema, to the Champagne excesses of Nick & Nora’s, it’s a list soaking in reasons to be cheerful. And then there’s the Everleigh, which takes the purity of its drinks so seriously it spawned an ice company. Seriously Melbourne, you rock.

Here are the nominees for Best Wine Bar.
Here are the nominees for Best Casual Drinking Venue.
Here are the nominees for Best Fine Dining Restaurant.

Want more? Click here to view all the nominees in the Time Out Food & Drink Awards 2022.

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And the nominees are...

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Collingwood
  • price 2 of 4

If you've never ventured into the upstairs of Collingwood's Beermash, let us give you a little preview. Walk up one flight and through a short corridor, arriving at a command centre in the heart of a tiny room – this is Above Board, one of Melbourne's smallest and most acclaimed cocktail bars. There are only a handful of seats in the main room, giving you courtside seats to watch the mixology magic happen. Continue past the bar to another, larger room with comfy tables and banquettes, dimly lit and tended to with punctual but not overbearing table service. And trust us, the cocktails here are just as immaculate as the fit-out, service and vibes. 

  • Bars
  • Fitzroy
  • price 2 of 4

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 20 years now – forever in industry terms – and it's the place many of us learnt how to appreciate a fine drink. Not content to sit pretty on tried-and-tested masterpieces, its list is always on the move, keeping in step with moods and seasons. 

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Port Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4

Bracketed by a fluorescent pho shop and froyo café, Clooney’s solid black frontage makes it an otherworldly transplant next to its more suburban neighbours. Inside the snug venue, Shannon McFarland (The Rochester, Woodland House) and Will Crennan (Gin Palace, Collins Quarter) do triple duty; taking orders, mixing drinks and explaining dishes from one moment to the next. Despite this juggle, their soft-spoken service is generous, whether walking older couples through the bar’s extensive range of foreign whiskies or pre-emptively offering to adjust cocktails to your preference.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4

Put it down to the bartenders in waistcoats sharp enough to cut a lime or the magician’s library vibe of the low-light, booths and dark wood, but Eau de Vie is one of the few Melbourne bars that has the gravitas to serve you a drink in a hollowed out bull’s horn with a straight face. The Banderillero is tequila, chorizo mescal, pineapple vinegar, Aperol, lime and bitters served in said horn and is an example of the unashamed theatrical flair on show here. All around you tables will be served drinks that are flaming, smoking or in a glass shoe but, as flamboyant as the drinks are, they are always brilliantly balanced and perfectly made by the well-trained staff.

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  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Fitzroy
  • price 2 of 4

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.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Melbourne
  • price 3 of 4

A grande dame of the Melbourne bar scene, this louche, basement-level cocktail lounge has been keeping people loose and liquored for more than 20 years. The default drinking spot among the city’s post-shift bartenders, plus tie-loosened office workers and huddles of tourists, Vernon Chalker’s enigmatic speakeasy is at its hedonistic best as the night wears on. 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. Cosy, couch-filled nooks beckon for Martini-driven mischief, and clutches of chaise longues imply that it’s fine to recline. Whichever state of mind and time of day you find yourself here, rest assured that the bar team will be on hand to mix you up a mean cocktail.

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  • Bars
  • Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4

How much would you pay to imbibe your next frothy from a Viking drinking horn? At Mjølner, a Norse mythology-themed bar under Hardware Lane, a few extra dollars gets you upgraded from lowly glassware to a forearm-sized vessel, embellished with gold and set majestically upright on a custom-made frame. Sure, wrenching out the hefty thing every time you want a swig of orange blossom mead may be more trouble than it’s worth, and your table neighbours will be on high eye-gouge alert, but think of the fun!

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Eltham

Show me a Melburnian who doesn't love a secret bar and we'll show them the door to Naught Distilling. The speakeasy bar hidden in the leafy streets of Eltham is a must-visit destination for any cocktail lover looking for something a little different. Step back in time and dial up the glamour as you enter a world of elegance made for people who appreciate a bespoke cocktail and a little bit of adventure. Serving a carefully curated cocktail menu, gin maker Chris Cameron is fusing traditional cocktail making with innovation to the delight of tastebuds, drama lovers and Instagram grids across Melbourne.

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  • Restaurants
  • Modern Australian
  • Melbourne

Set in the fancy 80 Collins precinct, Nick & Nora’s fits right into the lineup of swanky venues that have moved into the Paris end of Melbourne’s CBD. Y’know – Society, La Madonna, Farmer’s Daughters. And much like its neighbours, it’s ritzy! But in a fun way, as opposed to an intimidating way, with a concept dedicated to the golden era of post-prohibition 1930s soirees and high society parties. It’s all just grand. A grand staircase. A grand hallway lined with 400 bottles of Champagne on display. A massive grand marble bar with bartenders serving up libation after libation.

  • Bars
  • Melbourne
  • price 2 of 4

What sets Whisky & Alement apart isn’t just the staff's warm service that’s as happy to guide a novice as it is to talk serious shop with a firewater devotee; and it isn’t the fact that it also goes so far as to import hard-to-find gems and sell them both by the shot and by the bottle. It’s that it's always looking ahead. The venue was leading the charge back in 2017 when it took out our Time out Bar of the Year award – and in 2022, well, it's still just as kickass as ever.

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