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By Concrete Playground
November 21, 2018
By Concrete Playground
November 21, 2018


The city's very best boozy additions of the year.

From moonlit rooftops to moody underground dens, Melbourne almost has it all when it comes to bars. But this hasn't stopped a horde of new and inventive ones from opening this year. A Carlton bar pairing cocktails with slices of pizza, a multi-level karaoke joint and a cafe-cum-wine bar serving up everything from 6.30m coffee to late-night pig's head sangas. This year's newbies are nothing if not diverse.

At Concrete Playground we encourage exploration and showcase innovation in our city every day, so we thought it fitting to reward those most talented whippersnappers pushing Melbourne to be a better, braver city. So, these six new bars, opened in 2018, were nominated for Best New Bar in Concrete Playground's Best of 2018 Awards. You can check out all the winners here.

  • 6

    The folk from Bar Liberty have proved themselves masters of transformation with their newest offering. Their refurbishment of the dark Beaufort is a wonder to behold. The now light and bright interior features burgundy and cream walls, olive green banquettes, wooden tables and art deco light shades. The terrazzo floor tiles are beautiful. Perhaps they — in conjunction with the high ceilings — create a space where people feel the need to yell each other. It’s loud at Capitano, but nothing a couple of acoustic boards wouldn’t fix. The menu seems simple at first glance, but the dishes are not. A veal parmigiana with the bone in ($65) is expensive for its size, but complex and an interesting take on a classic. And if you came for the pizza, you’ll be happy with the pizza. The base is sourdough, fermented for 48 hours, and has just the right amount of chew. Plus, they don’t go overboard on the toppings. Banjo Harris Plane — the venue’s co-owner and sommelier — has created an enviable 100-strong wine list with excellent pours by the glass from Italian winemakers, and more local, but Italian, varieties. There are also eight cocktails ranging from sparkly spritzes to aperitivos through to the dolce.

    Words: Jo Rittey. Images: Kate Shanasy.

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  • 5
    They say that if you follow a galah, it’ll lead you to the nearest watering hole. And while bar-filled Windsor might not be the best place to test the theory, you won’t be going thirsty if you head for its newest drinking spot, named after those pink native birds. Opening on High Street, Galah is out to celebrate top Aussie produce, native ingredients and locally crafted drinks, though with minimal gimmickry served on the side. Greeting you at the street-level entrance is a boutique bottle shop, curated to focus on homegrown spirits, local craft beers, and both natural and new-world wines from across Australia. Take something home, or grab a bottle to enjoy at the bar above. Up there, a loft-like space is decked out with velvet booths, moody timber panelling and splashes of foliage, courtesy of co-owner Billy Staughton’s other venture, Abbotsford’s Native Home House of Plants. The cocktail list is a highlight, with signature creations heroing native ingredients.
    Words: Libby Curran.
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  • 4

    Everyone loves a hero. Some people even hold out for one. So when a bar opens with heroes as its namesake, we’re, naturally, interested. And when that bar features three levels of karaoke, barbecue and a rooftop bar, we’re making a beeline to its front door. As soon you step out the elevator, senses are assaulted. Your eyes by a cacophony of colours from the treasures gathered on the owners’ 10 -day jaunt around Malaysia. Your ears by music reminiscent of roller skating rinks from Saturday afternoons in the early 80s. Your nose by the smell of the smoky grill. And this is before you put anything in your mouth. If you like your cocktails to have qualifications, order a Doctor Jones (rum, Melbourne moonshine sweet tea, turmeric and Malaysian sour plum) and the assault on the sense will be complete. Then there’s the food. All the cooked offerings come straight off the charcoal grill.

    Words: Jo Rittey. Images: Eugene Hyland.

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  • 3

    A restaurant-cum-wine bar, Congress has set up shop on Peel Street at the base of an apartment block. Its catchcry is “wine and espresso until late” — two important Melbourne traditions that could be, perhaps, extended to a third tradition: sating your hunger till late, too. Luckily, all three boxes are ticked here. What should you put on your plate when you venture here? It should probably involve the kangaroo pastrami with cultured cream and fried onions ($13), a pig’s head and green mustard “sanga” ($7), or lamb sweetbreads with grains, beer and gremolata ($23). When it comes to filling your glass, it might take you a little while to pick through the well-travelled wine list (complete with Spanish, German and French offerings). If you prefer something local (and funky) look to one of the natural bottles — there’s everything from Jamsheed to Dormilona and Adelaide Hills’ leading lady Lucy Margaux. There are some fresh cocktails, too, including a yuzu-spiked spritz.

    Words: Kat Hayes. Images: Kate Shanasy.

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  • 2

    The airy space at the end of Chapel Street — formerly home to a health food cafe — has crossed over to the dark side. Its once light and bright fit-out has been replaced by a dark and ambient decor combining recycled timbers, giant drapes of fabric hanging from the ceilings and a melange of antiques mounted on the walls. The food at this Windsor restaurant bar doesn’t have a specific cultural identity, but rather draws influences from around the globe and has an overarching theme: nostalgia. Old classics you may have eaten as a child come out to play in modern forms. And this is done successfully by head chef Paul Turner — who hails from Cutler & Co. When it comes to drinks, cocktails are the word at Lover — all prettily picturesque and met with generous flavour. Visitors will find a blueberry and sage sour made with infused gin ($18), as well as a coconut and elderflower margarita ($18). Lover also sports a collection of white, red and sparkling wines from across the globe to match its diverse food offerings, too.

    Words: Caterina Hrysomallis.

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  • 1

    Brunswick East has always been blessed with late-night joints and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when institution Café Romantica closed last year after 30 years of serving pizzas basically 24/7. Big shoes to fill, perhaps. But the new owners have redone the interior, produced an exceptional menu and drinks list, and, having been open for six months now, they’re killing it. While the name Bar Romantica may conjure up images of a small, intimate, cosy bar set-up, it’s not — instead it’s quite cavernous with high ceilings and mirrors, and the space goes way back past the bar to the open kitchen, booths and the pool table. It’s got sophisticated snacks, excellent mains and, in a nod to the venue’s history, the kitchen’s kept the classic Pizza Romantica ($18) on there, zhuzhed a little with a Napoli crust and — if you want to pay an extra five bucks — a hint of ‘nduja. Apart from Monday and Tuesday, Bar Romantica is open late each night, and until 4am on Fridays and Saturdays. While it might not be the all-occasions drop-in spot it once was, whether you’re a night owl, a party animal, looking for a good date night spot or just want to treat yourself to some delicious food, Bar Romantica is ready and waiting for you.

    Words: Jo Rittey. Images: Kate Shanasy.

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Top image: Lover


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