Melbourne's Best New Bars of 2020
The city's very best boozy additions of the year.
MELBOURNE'S BEST NEW BARS OF 2020
The city's very best boozy additions of the year.
While unscrewing the cap of a bottled cocktail was the closest many of us got to a bar for a large chunk of 2020, some clever Melburnians actually opened a bar this year. And they're an impressive bunch, too. Our fair city is now home to an urban winery in the north, an opulent three-balcony champagne bar in the CBD and a Miami-inspired boozer floating smack bang in the middle of the Yarra. That's just the start. As the storm clouds start to clear and we reach the end of a weird (and sometimes horrific) 12 months, we're taking a moment to celebrate the good that's come from 2020 by rounding up the best new bars to open their doors this year.
Winemaker Gary Mills has been operating Jamsheed of the Yarra Valley since 2003, but it has never had a cellar door to call its own — until Mills decided to move operations entirely to Preston in 2019 and his groundbreaking urban winery was born. Sitting on Albert Street, Jamsheed’s new home takes the form of a two-level, 170-person warehouse space complete with a foliage-filled winery and tasting bar downstairs, and a separate spirits-focused dive bar above. The whole catalogue of Jamsheed drops is on offer at the bar, including the newest releases, plus you’ll find a hefty retail selection of take-home bottles. There’s also an assortment of craft beers and ciders from local mates such as Hop Nation and 3 Ravens, alongside a tidy range of homegrown artisanal spirits. To eat, there’s a menu of regularly changing snacks and mains by Josh Nicholson Catering, including the likes of steak tartare, LP’s pig’s head sausage with pipis and sourdough and curried baby chats.
Images: Julia Sansone
A double shopfront on Wellington Parade has been transformed into a chic, vintage-inspired wine bar and brasserie that nods to the classic 20s-era haunts of New York and Paris. Art deco features abound, while a bold colour palette of black and red rounds it out in unmistakably French style. In the kitchen, Head Chef Patrick Dang (Kyneton’s Royal George and his own much-hyped Hong Kong venue Saam) is plating up a Euro-accented menu, with dishes like the scallop tartare starring foie gras rillette and a sweet corn agnolotti with cheddar fondue. The wine list celebrates both the old world and the new, while a cocktail lineup showcases five favourite sips of Ernest Hemingway himself, reimagined with modern ingredients. Settle into a banquette and tumble back in time with help from the rye- and mezcal-based Spice Racket, or perhaps the Dame Blanche — a decadent sour blending Four Pillars Rare Gin, apricot brandy and lemon myrtle syrup.
Home to a takeaway-only sanga pop-up during lockdown, this Gertrude Street space has since been transformed into owners Zoë Rubino and Emilio Scalzo’s original creation: Poodle Bar & Bistro. Step inside the double-fronted venue now and you’ll find much more than a deli and sandwich counter. The interior, designed by local firm Bergman & Co, has leather banquettes, art-adorned walls, dark timber accents and an art deco-inspired bar — think a much moodier The Grand Budapest Hotel and you’re partway there. It’s split into three areas: the downstairs bistro, the sunny courtyard and Poodle Upstairs, which has a fireplace and a private dining room. Head Chef Josh Fry has created a new menu designed for balmy summer nights on the patio. Seafood is the star of the menu with devilled Moreton Bay Bug salad, spanner crab and taramasalata vol-au-vents and surf ‘n’ turf with 45-day dry-aged rib eye and prawn butter.
Champagne, cognac and caviar. This is what Melburnians can expect from Nick & Nora’s. The brainchild of the Speakeasy Group, the owners of cocktail classic Eau de Vie, Viking luxe bar Mjølner and whisky-serving Boilermaker House, it’s inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Thin Man and its fictional crime-solving team Nick and Nora Charles. If you’re not familiar with the book, expect a roaring 30s vibe befitting a most glamorous party. The sprawling venue boasts five distinct spaces (a main bar, salon, champagne parlour and a VIP lounge), three balconies, green marble, gold and dark wood finishes and a whopping 400 bottles of champagne. For cocktails, the manual is organised by taste and includes martinis, champagne cocktails, punches and sours aplenty. There are French-inspired snacks and share plates, too, including smoked eel blinis topped with caviar, confit duck with fermented chilli and lamb tartare with macadamia cream.
Images: Brook James
Historically, the inner northwest suburb of Moonee Ponds hasn’t exactly been saturated with top-notch drinking destinations. But with a handful of recent bar openings and yet more in the works, things are suddenly looking a lot less thirsty for this unassuming pocket of Melbourne. Not least thanks to its latest addition: new craft booze paradise The Mighty. Taking over the former Sporting Globe digs, the venue is the latest project from Aussie craft drinks collective Mighty Craft, behind brands such as Brogan’s Way, Jetty Road Brewery and Green Ant Gin. And The Mighty is focused on celebrating the whole stable. The sprawling, three-level space has room to seat 110, spread across a cocktail bar, terrace, bistro, public bar and atrium. As you’d expect, the drinking situation is front and centre here, with 14 taps pouring cider, beer and seltzer, and a list of signature cocktails showcasing Mighty Craft spirits — like the Pirouette, blending Brogan’s Way Hearts Afire gin with lychee, lime, apple and rose.
What do you get when you cross a wine bar with a pub and slot it into a cosy shopfront on Johnston Street? Well, for Chris Wright and Jonathan Reisacher, the result looks a lot like their new Collingwood venture, Gum — a glam 70s-themed boozer heroing hot pies, tap brews and vintage cocktails. It’s the first foray into hospitality for these two best mates, though, as music industry veterans, they’re confident they’ve frequented enough bars in their time to know what works. Here, the winning formula involves a rock-chic fit-out by Brunswick designer Bianca Sciuto, imagined with the help of retro wallpaper prints, orange laminate table tops and plenty of curves. The food offering runs to a simple lineup of pies from Footscray’s Pie Thief, while the drinks list serves around 20 craft tins — from favourites like Fixation, 3 Ravens, Kaiju and Stomping Ground — and retro cocktails, such as banana cream daiquiris and a riff on the mai tai.
Images: Rubin Utama
Ponyfish Island certainly isn’t new. But after a makeover this big, we thought it had more than earned its spot on this list. The team decided, with the help of Adelaide’s Studio Gram, to “strip the whole thing down…and start again”. The new Miami-inspired fit-out space is full of curves and terrazzo — and extra seating, bumping up capacity to 150 — while custom-made adjustable shade paddles rise artistically above the bar’s al fresco section. For the first time, the venue’s got its own cool room, ice machines and beer lines, the latter pouring a concise range of tap brews that includes a recreation of the Ponyfish lager. Elsewhere on the drinks list, you’ll find some bottled beers, an Aussie-led wine selection and a handful of summer-inspired cocktails — ranging from a share-friendly rosé sangria, to the Ponystar Martini crafted with passionfruit liqueur and mango syrup.
To the uninitiated, the name Zymurgy might appear a little daunting. But Footscray’s newest watering hole is anything but. In fact, if you’ve got a thing for craft booze, innovative eats cooked over charcoal and sun-drenched beer gardens, you’ll want to waste zero time getting acquainted. Quietly opening the doors in late November, Zymurgy — pronounced ‘zye-mur-jee’ — is a joint venture between Hop Nation Brewing Co owners Sam Hambour and Duncan Gibson and Julian Hills (chef-founder of Yarraville fine diner Navi). Hidden behind a former Sri Lankan restaurant on Barkly Street, the al fresco site is both kid and dog-friendly, boasting shady umbrellas, an outdoor bar and an offering akin to an elevated backyard barbecue. The liquid side of things leans just as crafty, headlined by a ten-strong tap lineup of Hop Nation brews. Enjoy both familiar drops — think, the J Juice NEIPA and The Heart pale ale — and small-batch creations like the Candyland milkshake hazy IPA, alongside a tight rotation of tap wines and cocktails.
Top image: Jamsheed Wines by Julia Sansone