Melbourne's Ten Best New Bars of 2017
The city's very best boozy additions of the year so far.
Melbourne's Ten Best New Bars of 2017
The city's very best boozy additions of the year so far.
June 22, 2017
MELBOURNE'S TEN BEST NEW BARS OF 2017
The city's very best boozy additions of the year so far.
Melbourne's just about got it all when it comes to bars, but that hasn't stopped them opening in droves this year. 2017's newbies have been diverse so far; as well as some top-notch Euro-leaning wine bars, we've had an inner-city microbrewery open alongside an all-out bar dedicated to mini golf with 21 themed holes. Yeah, there's just some things you can't recreate at home.
With so many openings hitting the city in a six-month period, we whittled it down to our favourite newcomers raising the bar for Melbourne's drinking scene. Well, our favourites so far — there's still another six months to go.
Image: Brook James.
Our city’s urban landscape has inspired some pretty nifty haunts over the years, from rooftop Airstream hotels to bars inside disused trams. But it feels like we’re about to reach peak Melbourne with the arrival of Whitehart, a double-decker container bar that’s hidden down a CBD laneway and sporting a very healthy dose of street art.
The brainchild of husband and wife duo Stephen Johnson and Sabrina Santucci, the bar has breathed new life into a former carpark just off Little Bourke Street, with the pair drawing inspiration from the most memorable drinking spots they’ve encountered on their overseas jaunts.
The bar is an urban oasis with a mix of indoor and openair spaces, plus multi-storey art installations and striking wall projections courtesy of local design studio Daisylegs. Throw in a considered lineup of craft brews, boutique wines and signature cocktails, and eats from a selection of the city’s food vendors, and we’ve got one hell of a new CBD watering hole.
Mirek Aldridge is one of a new breed of indie brewers: a ragtag bunch of beer nerds, home brew and craft enthusiasts whose love for beer has driven them toward turning pro. But brewing independently needn’t mean recklessly. A vintage arcade machine sits in the corner. In the corner opposite, hidden behind a row of shiny chrome fermenters, is Aldridge’s old 70-litre all-grain home brewing kit.
All of the recipes being brewed at The Mill Brewery, Aldridge’s first venture into commercial brewing, were captured initially on this 70-litre system. It’s no match for the 600-litre system he’s brewing on now and which dominates the rear third of the bar and brewery, but it’s the perfect size to test out a new batch or to brew a limited one-off keg.
The Mill will be running up to eight taps in total but to start with, Aldrige intends to keep things simple. Three taps pouring an American-styled pale ale, a black Indian pale ale and a vanilla porter will round out the offering in addition to another guest beer tap and a cider tap.
Just as much attention has been poured over the wine list which features a bold selection of Victorian varietals, a Pinot Noir from New Zealand’s North Canterbury, a Barossa GSM and Canberran cool climate Shiraz. The Mill, from the homemade red gum tables to the self-confessed obsession with hops and aromatics, has been a lifelong labour for Aldridge. The Mill is pet-friendly and will be serviced by a roster of food trucks on launching.
At this stage, the American bar concept has had plenty of airplay here in Melbourne — but don’t go thinking you’ve seen it all. The newest addition to our ever-growing collection of US-inspired drinking destinations, Prahran’s Silverlake Social, is doing things a little differently.
Neon-drenched, tinny-slinging dive bar this is not. Nor is it sporting a Southern-style saloon fitout, cowhides or a Texas twang. Instead, owners Thomas and Nicholas Welch have come up with something that’s crisp, contemporary and a destination for standout American booze.
The food menu leans to the South and is packed full of comforting flavours, from the beer snacks, burgers and burritos, to the BBQ-style sides. A classic cheeseburger comes loaded with juicy beef, American cheese, pickles, cos lettuce, and a drizzle of special sauce ($14), while tangy Buffalo wings ($14) are the ideal accompaniment to a hoppy Stones IPA ($12-18) and some big-screen NBA action. Even the vegetarians are spoilt for choice, though the joyous mess of three-cheese macaroni, black beans, and truffle oil ($10) requires little in the way of decision-making.
Not only did the brothers cut their bar ownership teeth at Greville Street’s White Oaks Saloon, but they’ve introduced Melbourne to some very cool US booze through their importing business, High Spirits Beverages. And it’s that game that wins them some serious brownie points here at Silverlake. The tap rotation — which is thanks to co-owner and beer afficionado Byron Barrowclough — runs to a crafty assortment of USA-made brews, showcasing top drops from Sierra Nevada and Brooklyn Lager, alongside less ubiquitous beers from the likes of Deschutes, and loads more interesting gems in the fridge.
But it’s on the cocktail list that the Welch brothers’ flair for unearthing exciting USA products really shines through. First up, a rotation of three tap cocktails will introduce twists on the classics; right now, it’ll likely find you sipping a well-balanced, tequila-infused Negroni. Then, a selection of signatures gets crafty with some artisan booze you won’t have seen much on home soil before, including Fruitlab’s clever liqueurs, some funky bitters, and great small-batch stuff, like Brooklyn Gin. The Yellow Smoke is a gutsy mix of mezcal, pineapple, and Serrano chilli ($15), while the Stetson Hop appeals to whisky and beer lovers alike, with its blend of bourbon, hop liqueur, and orange bitters ($15).
For years they’ve had Melbourne swooning over their bowls of pasta. Now, Tipo 00 owners Luke Skidmore, Alberto Fava and Andreas Papadakis have embarked on their second joint venture, opening a casual wine bar and eatery Osteria Ilaria, right next door to their original Little Bourke Street restaurant.
The trio — along with Skidmore’s interior designer sister Briony Morgan — have been busy putting their stamp on the space once home to DuNord, swapping out the blonde timber and Scandi style for a look that’s pared-back and rustic, balanced out with a few contemporary touches. The 85-seater boasts a little more breathing room than its neighbour, with bar seating for that laidback, after-work tipple, and a private dining room with room for 16.
Having achieved cult status with their pastas and Nonna-worthy Italian fare, these guys are taking an even bigger bite out of Europe this time around, both in the kitchen and behind the bar. Expect wines from the likes of South America, Croatia and Georgia to sit alongside a share-focused, Euro-inspired menu designed for hearty, family-style feasting.
Perched on the peaceful corner of Napier and Kerr Streets, Napier Quarter is a pleasant sanctuary for those not quite in the mood for the loud crowds that fill many of Johnston Street’s eateries. It’s a morning-to-night operation at Napier Quarter — waking up as an espresso bar and morphing into a wine bar as the day proceeds. What remains constant is the quality of produce used in the dishes. The chefs masterfully pair combinations that are pretty hard to resist. The menu is ever-changing, but breakfast usually involves an eggs-on-toast dish, maybe paired with anchovies or some form of cheese. Otherwise there are pastries from Loafer Bread to munch on.
By noon, the bar food crawls out, including house-made pickles ($6), Mount Zero olives ($8), and charcuterie ($12 per 50 grams). Small and large dishes take over from there, which are both generous is size and flavour. You may find a house-made spelt spaghetti with, zucchini, ricotta, preserved lemon and mint ($23); this dish manages to be simple yet still abundant with flavour from the lemon and mint. The roasted snapper with green olive and lemon (market price) is another customer favourite — but again, not always available. Pair your main with a little veggie power or salad, maybe in the form of the overly substantial farro salad with pickled carrots, radish and black sesame ($16) and you’ll be rolling out the door, shirt unbuttoned and all. Just know the menu is quite succinct, so come prepared to go along with the limited options and push your culinary boundaries.
A chalkboard hosting the wine list hovers over diners, which is made up of wines strictly deriving from Italy, Spain, France and Australia. Allpress Coffee is available too, made with a La Marzocco. And just to top things off, the space is stunning. It’s perfectly petite (about 140 square metres all up) and filled with dark timber furniture and hanging lights, making it the ideal, intimate place to dive into a conversation that may take up your entire afternoon or evening.
Napier Quarter blends corner cafe with casual wine bar in a way that, in our opinion, isn’t done often enough in Melbourne, and is well worth a visit if you live local or across town.
Bar Josephine fits right in to its Footscray surrounds, bringing a cosy dive vibe to Barkly Street. A craft beer bar at heart, the graffitied, dog-friendly beer garden is a gathering place for creatives and has already become something of a local haunt.
The unassuming, shabby brick exterior is warmed up by upcycled furnishings, well-worn books, red leather-backed booths, graffiti wall art and exposed brick interiors. The ever-changing chalkboard menu spells out the 12-tap rotation of craft beers, including Victorian favourites like Cavalier Brewing, Hargreaves Hill, Old Wives Ales and local West City Brewing from neighbouring West Footscray (which will feature regularly). They’re also serving up a small cocktail and wine list, and while there’s no kitchen, Bar Josephine does offer pizza delivery to the bar and classic bar snacks like pork crackling, jerky and chippies.Since they’re open seven days, it means this spot really can be your go-to any night of the week.
Paradise Alley is the latest addition to Collingwood’s multi-faceted dining warehouse on Easey Street. The shared space includes a microbrewery, deli, art gallery, motorbike shop and, now, a 150-seater public bar and pool hall.
Hospo vet and owner Laura Twomey (ex-City Wine Shop) maintains the warehouse’s roots in this massive open space with polished concrete floors, original stained glass windows and exposed brick walls, along with eclectic furniture and a gorgeous handmade blonde timber bar. A separate pool room features a red table surrounded by hard-backed booths and the laneway doubles as a 35-seater beer garden, complete with potted plants and large-scale street art across every wall.
The bar is serving up a rotating tap list of Australian craft beer, along with a small specialty cocktail menu and natural wines. For food, they’re collaborating with neighbour Little Latin Lucy, who also resides in the warehouse and serves up Latin American street food with a Californian twist. Dishes can be ordered from the bar and include chipotle pork or smoked duck tacos topped with charred pineapple, lamb ribs and grilled whole fish. The bar also hosts weekly charity meat raffles and regular wine tastings.
The co-op type space is also shared with Backwoods Gallery and Casati’s Deli, the latter of which has begun brewing their own beer from the warehouse’s microbrewery — which is visible from Paradise Alley and will make its way onto their taps soon enough.
Stepping through the door at Wine 1160 is like coming home. Well, the ideal home, perhaps — one with cosy brick walls, wooden furniture, a lovely rear courtyard and (most importantly) shelf upon shelf of beautiful wine.
Technically this is a wine bar, but somehow that categorisation just doesn’t quite do it justice. It is certainly a great wine bar (for want of a more sophisticated description) and sets a defining standard for venues wanting to call themselves thus. But what makes a great wine bar, you ask? For me, the key factors are, a) a compelling wine list featuring wines from off the beaten track with a bit of a story attached to them, b) beautiful glasses to drink it from, c) good quality food to nibble on while you quaff, and, lastly, d) knowledgeable staff with excellent service. Along with a relaxed, convivial ambience, Wine 1160 has all these in spades.
Owner Prabir Majumdar, a political advisor who, after visiting 25 countries through his work has settled down in Melbourne, has worked with wine consultant Joshua Elias to curate the ever-evolving wine list. It’s a big list but it’s not pretentious and Prabir and his staff are more than happy to make suggestions and chat about the vineyard, the winemaker, the flavours and any other anecdotes that fit.
In fact, both the staff and the space will convince you the only thing you need for dinner — or, for that matter, life — is a glass of wine and a little something tasty to go with it. Which isn’t to downplay the food at Wine 1160; the menu from head chef Jasmin Lefers complements the wine perfectly, as is the intention. While restaurants pair the wine with their food, here, the wine offering comes first, food second. The menu has been created by picking out the flavours and high notes of the wines sold by the glass and then weaving the dishes around them.
As such, the emphasis is on small plates. The dishes are Mediterranean tapas-style, with the addition of some Indian spices, offering a nod to owner Prabir’s Indian heritage. Embark on an adventure with a plate of charcuterie ($22) — the prosciutto comes from Italy while air-dried bresaola is made by a family in Lara. It’s best accompanied by a rich and nutty barrel-aged Quinta do Noval Tawny Port ($12.50 glass). Or sip a glass of Champagne and revel in the pairing with popcorn and Gruyère salt ($7.50).
Another match made in food heaven — or at least somewhere hovering in the space above the south of France and Central Otago — is the pissaladière with its kalamata olives and white anchovies on a pizza-like base ($14) and a glass of Earth’s End Pinot Noir ($12). It’s a stellar example of how Wine 1160 marry food and wine to create something special, even if you’re just dropping in for a snack on your way home.
Hitting the indoor mini-golf course for a few holes of pop culture-themed fun and a few rounds of delightfully named beverages isn’t just something Brisbanites should enjoy, or Sydney residents either. After launching in Queensland in late 2016, and announcing their first New South Wales venture, Holey Moley Golf Club has officially landed in Melbourne.
590 Little Bourke Street is now home to 27 holes of club-swinging antics across two levels. It’s Holey Moley’s biggest venue yet, which means that there’s plenty of room for the three nine-hole courses. The Brisbane bar is known for its creativity when it comes to creating courses, and this venue is no exception. Melburnians can tap, tap, tap their way through rooms dedicated to The Simpsons and Game of Thrones and throwbacks to Pacman and Barbie dolls. Plus, everyone will be able to break out into song at the same time, with karaoke part of the antics. If you choose to work your way through the Happy Gilmore soundtrack, no one will stop you (at least not any of the staff).
Drinks-wise, expect cocktails. The Caddyshack Bar boasts a pun-laden drinks list that includes the The Sugar Caddy, the Teeyonce Knowles and a Long Island Iced Tee (just what it sounds like, but with an appropriate name). Beer, cider and wine will also be available, but when you’re aiming for a hole-in-one, it seems appropriate to be drinking from one (made from Pampero white rum, cinnamon whisky, half a banana, sugar syrup and a doughnut — yep, a doughnut) at the same time.
There’s a new powerhouse partnership on Melbourne’s hospitality scene, as Nic Coulter and Simon Blacher (Hanoi Hannah, Tokyo Tina) join forces with David and Michael Parker (the brothers behind Pastuso and San Telmo), on an ambitious new Windsor venture.
Now open, two-level Neptune is a reimagining of the wine bar concept, sharing its focus between food, wine, and cocktails. With a considered assortment of stylish spaces and intimate nooks, the guys have created a year-round charmer that’s seriously dressed to impress. We’re foreseeing many a cosy night in the ‘fireplace lounge’, sophisticated sessions hidden away in the ‘cocktail saloon’, and evenings camped out downstairs, quaffing vino at the suburb’s largest bar.
Neptune’s menu has a Mediterranean vibe, with clever share plates backing up a solid grazing selection and a range of cured meats, fresh from the bar’s slicer. Dishes like an absinthe bonito tartare and a classic ‘fritto misto’ will sit alongside an assortment of signature pasta creations, to be teamed with expertly-crafted classic cocktails and sommelier-picked wines.