The 50 best bars in Melbourne
December 2023: The heat is dialling up in Melbourne and so are our cravings for crisp tipples and refreshments. From sunshine-flooded rooftop bars to classy watering holes harking back to bygone eras, our guide to the top 50 bars in Melbourne needs to be bookmarked if you're a sucker for a good drink. You've got the entire summer to tick each one off the list – we'll see you out there! Melbourne has some of the best bars in the world, whether you're looking for the laser-like focus of 16-seater Above Board or the rock ‘n’ roll ‘she’ll be right’ of Heartbreaker. You can find temples heroing whisky and palaces dedicated to gin; you can sip naked wines or suited-and-booted cocktails, grab a craft beer and a parma or a late-night Gimlet and a cheese-snowed plate of beef carpaccio. If you're looking for a bar to head to, we've rounded up the top 50 bars that we're really excited about right now, many of which happen to be winners of the Time Out Food and Drink Awards for 2023.
The best beer gardens in Melbourne
Sun’s out, fun’s outdoors as winter-weary Melburnians emerge from hibernation for a cold pint or glass of wine in these hot city oases. While Melburnians are a hardy lot, huddling under gas heaters in beer gardens year round, there is something special about the blossoming of the city’s outdoor drinking spots when the warmer weather hits. Whether you like your beer gardens grungy and graffitied or lush and green we have a list of the best options for having some fun in the sun. While we're talking booze, be sure to check out our favourite rooftop bars and the best happy hours in Melbourne.
The best laneway bars in Melbourne
There seems to be a high correlation between bars that are hidden away and hard to find, and bars that are serving some of the best drinks, vibes and service in town. Sure these laneway spots may require Google Maps to locate, but the promise of a top-quality hand-crafted cocktail or cold frothy is sure to be ample rewards for the journey. Looking to kick on? Check out the best late-night bars in Melbourne.
The best Margaritas in Melbourne
A good Margarita is like summer in a glass – refreshing, tart and the perfect balance of sweet and sour – and with the unpredictable Melbourne weather, summer in a glass may be the only one we get. The perfect Margarita can be a simple three-ingredient classic or it can be twisted with anything from chilli to mandarin. Unsurprisingly, many of Melbourne’s best Mexican restaurants know the way around a great Marg but so do many of the city’s best cocktail bars. We have rounded up a selection of Melbourne’s finest, so get drinking! Looking to explore more great drinking spots around town? These are the 50 best bars in Melbourne.
Listings and reviews (11)
Whisky & Alement
This intimate, clubby space just off Russell Street glows with an amber hue as the low lighting bounces off the 500 or more whisky bottles that are stacked behind the bar, locked in the glass cabinet on the wall, or sitting on the tables of punters as they compare and chat over a glass of grain. Seating is mainly barstools and bar food is limited, so it’s perfect for pairs or small groups on the hunt for a pre- or post-dinner dram. The bar is a member of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, an international club that seeks out and bottles its own whiskies – strictly single malt, strictly single cask – and then shares it with its members. Whisky and Alement acts like your best mate with a club subscription he can’t keep on top of, and the bar offers the widest range of the Society’s limited-edition drops in the Southern Hemisphere that you can buy by the glass. But if this is all sounding a bit pretentious, it’s not. This is a bar borne out of passion and one that wants to share the love of grain far and wide, not just to the whisky converts. So, if you order the blind tasting you will get an enthusiastic bartender plonk themselves onto a seat next to you and run you through each selection with knowledge and genuine excitement about what you have coming to you, from a peat-heavy Scottish masterpiece to a plucky upstart from Yackandandah. A chalkboard on the wall shouts out to the newest bottles on offer. For the whisky-adjacent, they have a cocktail list with classics like a Whisk
If you turn up to Good Measure in the daytime you will see a studenty crowd quaffing down coffee and cheesecake while someone spins retro rock on the prominent turntable. This modest shopfront, sandwiched between the traditional Italian eateries on Lygon Street, is like an ’80s chardonnay inside: heavily wooded and going for big, bold flavours. Run by a team of mates, it’s a slashie that seems more confident in its daytime guise when it is turning out coffee and sandwiches but is a bit more hit-and-miss in the evenings when the cocktail shakers come out. If you are going to offer a short, seasonal menu then every cocktail needs to hit the mark. Options like a Strawberry Cream Spritz or Bergamot White Russian sound exciting but an equally brave-sounding Choc Blood Orange Martini lacks the punch of either chocolate or orange or for that matter, alcohol. Similarly, a Mandarin Negroni Blanc also falls a bit flat and makes you yearn for the original. The housemade rhubarb lemonade has potential, but is lip-curlingly tart. Things improve with the curated taps sitting behind the wooden bar. A wall full of ever-changing taps keeps the brew fans happy with craft offerings like Garage Project Peach Sour, Bellwoods Coffee stout and Stomping Ground’s Pale Ale. There is also a clever selection of wines from popular new styles like the Dirty Black Denim rose pét nat to creations from Melbourne Sake. The place is busy day and night and the service is warm and friendly. The space was home t
The austere design of Above Board – with a simple wooden benchtop and all the alcohol hidden away in drawers in unmarked decanters – has bartender Hayden Lambert standing at the 12-seater bar like a blackjack dealer doling out drinks instead of cards. The difference here is that whatever you bet on from the short, thoughtful menu will be a winner. The precision with which Lambert designs the menu around the limited drawer space means that no drink is a gamble; all killer, no filler, if you will. The backlit, mirrored cupboards give the place a futuristic atmosphere but there are some retro rippers on Hayden’s cocktail list. Celebrate the criminally underrated liqueur Midori in a Japanese Slipper with curaçao and just the right amount of lemon juice to balance the sweet melon flavour, or a Martini with just the added hint of orange bitters. The other half of the menu is dealer’s choice with Lambert’s own creations such as the Gentlemen Caller with rye whiskey, sweet vermouth and gran classico, a rich and smoky number that is like a weathered leather briefcase in drink form. The Hot Minute riffs on a Margarita with tequila, lemon juice and bitters. The end result of climbing the stairs to Above Board from the grafftitied Chopper Lane is you feel like you have dropped over to your mate’s place, if he was a cocktail prodigy with a penchant for Scandinavian design. Lambert is an attentive host whose bar skills are only rivalled by his dad jokes, the “bad banter” that is clearly te
“Love all, serve all” is the motto of the once-ubiquitous Hard Rock Cafes, but it has found its modern incarnation in the rambunctious Stomping Ground beer hall. Inspired by the cavernous European beer halls, but reimagined as a community hub, on any given night you will find the converted warehouse packed with beer lovers and dog lovers, trestle tables jammed full of families and couples huddled in a corner booth. The racks at the front door will be overflowing with bikes, locals will be ducking in to grab some takeaway and the 30-odd taps will be doing some serious business. The space is split roughly in half; on the beer garden side, with a retractable roof, you will find the huge wooden fort that looks like something made by Peter Pan’s Lost Boys. The elevated deck contains mostly families with kids stealing a slice of pizza before rushing back to the fort and trying not to trip over the lazing pooches. If things do go a bit Lord of the Flies (and they can) switching over to the front bar quiets things down a notch. Both spaces are going with a dark industrial look offset with quirky touches like a bathtub full of plants or vintage cabinetry bearing metal animal heads. The whole thing is backlit by the huge floor-to-ceiling windows showing off the rows of shiny silver brewing tanks and the staff hard at work brewing the beers. Those beers are found on the rows taps at the central bar, quirky brews like the Where’s Your Red At red ale or a dark sour that was apparently a “
Naught Cocktail Bar & Distillery
The doors to the best speakeasies act like magic portals, instantly transporting you to somewhere that seems a thousand miles from where you just stood. At Naught Distilling, one minute you’re in a near-deserted industrial park in Eltham – home to Naught’s gin distillery – and the next you are in a speakeasy-cum-tropical bar (troppospeak?) with nods to LA’s true hipsters bars like the Dresden Room, as popularised in Swingers. The place is designed by Studio Y, a group that already has mid-century form kitting out Nick and Nora’s and Boilermaker House; it’s a riot of pressed-metal ceilings, velvet, bold wallpaper and pensive JH Lynch-inspired portraits. The stonework-fronted bar is long, langorous and designed for making new friends as you sit under a dried botanical creation suspended from the ceiling. The soundtrack is swing and jazz from the likes of King of Swing Louis Prima, there’s a mezzanine couples' hideaway and a wall of ample-sized booths for groups on the giggle water. The whole scene is watched over by Carl, the steampunk-looking gin still that cranks out Naught’s award-winning craft spirits. Try some of Carl’s creations in a list of cocktails that celebrates some lost classics from the Prohibition era, like the Corpse Reviver No 2 and the Casino (sibling to the Aviation). There is also a page of G&Ts and a tasting flight where you can sample some of Naught’s more offbeat creations like the Sangiovese gin. The real fun is in the pages of Smuggler’s Cove with twi
The Esplanade Hotel
In music, the list of cover versions that are better than the original is strikingly short, but those on the list tend to be a radical reinterpretation rather than a tepid rehash. The old Hotel Esplanade wore its shabbiness and grunge proudly, like a tattered T-shirt of a favourite band, but the team at Sand Hill Road (Garden State, Prahran Hotel) did more than just give the place a lick of paint when it took over in 2017. The group closed the place for over a year and undertook a $15 million rebuild. Up-and-coming bands playing in the corner of the Espy’s front bar may have tried to raise the roof in the past but it was Sandhill Hill Road that cracked it right open replacing the tiles and wood with glass and letting the sunshine in to what was a proudly stingily lit space. The famously adhesive carpet is gone too replaced by terrazzo tiles and the only greenery to be found is hanging from the ceiling in leafy tendrils. Patches of exposed brick stop things from looking too shiny but this is a light, bright space now. The old Main Bar seemed to turn its back to the sunny seaside location where it has stood grandly since 1878, whereas the new bar feels like a permanent summer garden party with a young crowd queuing around the block to get in in the warmer weather. Cocktails like a Seaside Spritz and Seaberry Fix keep things feeling coastal and a Double-Barrel Margarita shows off the bartending skills with a mash-up of a classic Margarita and a Tommy’s, mixing Herradura Plata te
Like the sizeable list of pet nats that takes pride of place at the front of its wine list, Bar Liberty is bringing a little natural sparkle to the age-old tradition of the wine bar. Seated in the snug room you may be surrounded by the time-worn wine bar decorations of “dead marines” turned into candlesticks and chalkboard recommendations, but you are also bathed in the lurid red neon from outside and overlooked by the prominent word LIBERTY, scrawled hastily over the sign from the previous restaurant occupant. Despite the anarchic-looking exterior, this is less of a revolution and more a cheeky nod to modernising the European wine bar, a concept that is much loved around the world but also gathering a bit of dust, like an unpopular drop at the back of a bar. Bar Liberty’s wine list is a very modern journey through the world’s best wines; it’s vibrant and fun with “fresh and energising” whites and “lighter bright” reds sitting beside traditional Champagnes and some seriously hefty reds from all around the Continent. Under bar manager Josh Begbie even the classic cocktails get a makeover, with the Black Manhattan adding Cherry Romano and Marionette Nocino (walnut liqueur) to make a dusky, nutty new twist, and the oft-derided Japanese Slipper getting overhauled with yuzu liqueur. There is a strong emphasis on local craft spirits and the beer list has pleasant surprises like Sailors Grave Law of the Tongue oyster stout. Head chef Zackary Leon Furst and executive chef Casey Wall
David Bailey’s famous portrait of Michael Caine dominates the ephemera-stacked bar at Gerald’s and, given the actor’s ability to remain cool as he ages, he is a worthy patron saint of this North Carlton stayer. There is a photo of the Italian Job, Get Carter and Dark Knight star on the men’s toilet, too, part of the bar’s eclectic look that sees Russian cosmonauts share wall space with Grace Jones, George Best and ceramic toreadors. The knee-knocking seating nods to the intimate neighbourhood bars of Europe as does the hand-scrawled menu that changes on a whim, so you might get South Australian sardines with fennel and a sweet hit of currants or chicken galantine with a side of tart pickles. Sides like kipfler potatoes cooked with olives and rosemary are perfect for a sharing snack. This is the bar for aperitifs with a solid selection of vermouth, pastis and ouzo from all over the Continent to get the palate started. The cocktail menu is prefaced with a quote from author Kingsley Amis throwing shade at the pina colada so naturally what follows is a collection of classic-inspired drinks like the Pink Suicide, vodka, rhubarb, ginger and lime shaken with egg white to a full froth or a seasonal sour that changes with the Melbourne weather. There are housemade non-alcoholic sodas as well. This petite bar packs a 200-plus strong list of wines, so ask the staff what is on as the by-the-glass menu changes depending on what is open at the time. That’s the appeal of Gerald’s you can pu
Builders Arms Hotel
Part of Andrew McConnell’s Trader House group, the Builders Arms is one of the more low-key venues in the Melbourne-only collection. You might head further up Gertrude Street to Cutler and Co for a finer-dine date night, or to Marion for a wine-focused long lunch; the Cumulus twins in the CBD are otherwise perfect for a business bite. But the front bar of the Builders Arms still feels like the neighbourhood boozer it has been since 1853. It retains the historic shoulder-height yellow tiles now teamed with a simple dark wood floor and Art Deco-inspired hanging globes. There may be less of the titular tradies propping up the bar these days but it’s a mixed crowd and the welcoming bar staff continue to pump out pots and schooners faster than a six o’clock swill. There is a strong craft beer bent now, so expect Sydney’s Young Henrys, local brew Hawkers and Pirate Life on the ample taps. You can order counter meals to eat at the high bar tables, but the real action is in the attached bistro that has been through a few changes of its own over the years. Under McConnell it began as Moon Under Water, then came Ricky & Pinky’s modern Chinese. Now, its European-leaning menu exists in a simply dressed room with banquettes along one wall and minimalist old pub touches like mounted stag antlers on cream-coloured walls. The bistro menu is ‘just’ pub food in the same way that truffles are ‘just’ fungus. These are pub classics by name but delivered with balance and finesse by McConnell’s te
Named for INXS’s third album, the irony here is that Shabooh Shoobah-era INXS would be far more at home on Brunswick’s Sydney Road in beer-and-bands joints like the Retreat Hotel. This bar has the mature style of late-era Michael Hutchence without the pomp and ceremony; the snacks are simple, the cocktails pre-mixed and the wine list barely longer than an album tracklist. Housed in an old butcher shop, Shabooh Shoobah is the sort of chill neighbourhood place where you might have to step over a pooch reclining next to the roadside tables to order your next round. The interior is split in two by an archway, one side plush red banquettes the other high bar stools arranged around a retro-light-strung bar with a prominent turntable and vinyl-stacked shelves. Unfortunately you can’t book but you can be guaranteed a warm welcome, neighbour or not. Owners Hootan Heydari and Emily Bitto are no strangers to hospitality, having kick-started Carlton’s Heartattack and Vine as well as Wide Open Road and a Minor Place. In the petite kitchen is another Heartattack and Vine alum, Sam Steck, whose simple-but-smart snack food is the driving rhythm section to Heydari’s front-of-house performance. It’s a greatest hits of the Mediterranean with manchego, artichoke and quail egg pintxos, stracciatella with braised peppers and curry leaves and Ligurian olives and lemon myrtle. The nduja soldiers see the spicy salami paste wedged into fingers of toasted bread dipped, not into eggs, but a light caper
Eau De Vie
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. Even the grandiloquent menu is fun, beautifully illustrated, playfully written and sorted with a visual flavour key to help you find what you love; take your time to sort through one of the most original menus around. You’ll need even more time if you are thinking of taking on the whisky trophy cabinet behind the bar or the even larger collection of rare drops that is hidden in the whisky room behind a fake bookcase. Ask the knowledgeable staff to run you through the options one of the great joys of Eau de Vie is the slick service and the care that is shown in pairing the right drink with the right drinker. Food sticks to the Prohibition-era theme with classic munchies like freshly shucked oysters, a charcuterie plate with pickles, Dijon mustard and a baguette or salmon cured and Four Pillars Bloody Shiraz Gin caviar