I am sick of paying $18 plus for a run-of-the-mill cocktail. No matter what your skillset is – don’t try and convince us that 3-4 minutes of your time and the ingredients are worth that much. I want a super-duper experience if I am going to dapple in the dark side of mixology and the prices that come with it. I am as enthusiastic about shabby local bars as I am destination venues and everything in between. One type is not ‘better’ than another, it all just depends on what you are looking for. So how do I recognise if I am in one of these magical places? Community, passion, atmosphere and overall execution. These are a few joints I cherish:
Sitting just off the main stretch of Smith Street, this smart converted townhouse is a mix of bar and restaurant, with a pretty outside courtyard. Cosy and inviting in winter, laid-back and airy in summer it serves a few well-selected beers on tap, European wines and knows how to mix a mean dirty Martini. The ‘classic bistro’ food is top-notch so, if you do get peckish, the team can swing into action and save you the next available table.
On my list last year Bar Ampere continues to punch well above its weight. Set up by the Gin Palace team next door, this Russell Place haunt specialises in aperitifs, digestifs and fortified wines – its tight drinks list is affordable and easy to navigate. Charcuteries and potted and preserved meats form the European-focused bar menu. The added fact that this is one of the true ‘hidden’ bars in Melbourne, and is open until three in the morning, makes it a great find for locals and tourists alike.The deets 16 Russell Place, Melbourne
Eating at Andrew McDonnell’s Gertrude Street restaurant is a joy in itself, but this was THE best bar experience of the year. Why? There is nothing better than going into a bar and feeling well looked after – like no request is too much, no detail too small. Drinks aren’t that cheap – but staff go the extra mile and sitting in the industrial-chic space is such a pleasurable experience that you can’t put a price on it. It’s all about drinking accoutrements – mixers served in laboratory-looking apparatus, a side glass of extra martini so you can top up your glass at leisure and silver saucers for olive pits.
This relatively undiscovered tequila bar, sitting above the whisky emporium that is Kodiak Club on Brunswick Street, is definitely one to watch. Last year’s Mexican wave of restaurants might be fading out (apart from the decent ones – Radio Mexico, Chingon and Touche Hombre all look set to stay – with the latter opening a new venue on St Kilda’s Acland Street soon), but if there’s one thing we would like to keep a hold of it is the tequila. Shots for sipping are served with little glasses of sangrita (little blood – tomato juice, chilli and spices) and verdita (little green – coriander, mint, jalepenos, pineapple and lime juice). No flavour-crushing sprinkles of salt or wedges of lemon here. Swing in a one-person hammock and gaze up at the sombrero-studded ceiling. The tequila-based cocktails and food aren’t bad, either.
This conservatory-cum-bar mysteriously flew under the radar in 2012, but I suspect this summer will see it become a Fitzroy institution due to is table tennis table, friendly shaggy dog and well-priced drinks and food. The Grub Truck is situated outside and put to good use when the weather allows. Entering through the main doors you are transported into a working greenhouse (magical, to say the least) with paint-peeling garden furniture set out under umbrellas.
Got a favorite bar? Let’s build a list! Tell us about your favorite spot (and why it’s great) in the comments section below.