This is not an article about how to drink under the table. For that, please pay upfront and enrol for my practical sessions, which convene every weekend outside pre-appointed bars. Instead, this is about the hippest bars in the Melbourne region. Take it for granted that the common factor that binds these places is a mix of one, two or all of the following factors: great cocktails, researched wine lists, super beers and great bar staff.
That established, what I will tell you about instead is the ambience that each place exudes. If Melbourne is on the cards for you, gear up for some of the most fantastic drinks in the lower half of the globe. That said, they are equally awesome by Northern Hemisphere standards:
House of Corrections: Housed in a space that formally housed a pharmacy (I think), this bar looks very clinical and lab-like. It mostly sells drinks, which are not named, but numbered. Try their concoctions—what could possibly go wrong?
Double Happiness: A quaint hole-in-the-wall bar, decidedly Asia-influenced, makes for some fun chats with the cool bartenders, and all this laced with aromatic easy drinks and groovy music. Yes, I said groovy.
Lily Blacks: Step off Meyer’s Place and into the roaring Twenties, with old classics revisited and set besides more contemporary concoctions. This is as classic and art deco as it gets. Don’t forget to bring your hat!
Elysium: Among the most exhaustive whisky lists I have ever seen—from rare limited-edition bottlings to brands that don’t exist any more—this is a sure-shot kilt lifter. Go here for high-end and rare whiskies, as also for whisk(e)y-based cocktails, and you won’t be disappointed.
Black Pearl: This Fitzroy gem is a popular spot for most young people to get together. For those in the know, they continue to the more secretive bar upstairs and get some lovely cocktails. Make sure you are on the list.
Cookie: A big spacious Asian eatery that evolves into a dimly-lit noisy but cool drinking oasis in the evening. The floor above is Goldilocks, the rooftop bar, where it’s always hard to find a seat. That said, the drinks down here are mighty fine too.
James Squire Brewery: A convict-turned-brewer, he is credited with planting and growing hops before anyone else in Australia. He brewed the first beers—first illegally—and went on to establish a brewery. The microbrewery in Melbourne downtown has an impressive list of local inhouse brews, ranging from light refreshing styles to rich coffee-chocolatey ones. Their summer ale is just that ideal mix of bitter and crisp for the early-morning thirst.
QT: A very hip hotel in the city centre, their rooftop bar is quite the hidden gem. Very swish and stylish, the view is surprisingly panoramic and unrestricted, considering it’s mostly surrounded by a high-rise urban sprawl. You can find good cocktails and a reliably comprehensive list of spirits and beers here.
Saint Crispin: This is more an eatery than a mere bar in the Collingwood district of Melbourne. Why I mention it is because the sommelier here really knows it all, especially when it comes to local wines. Victoria, as a region, plants many grapes, so it can get confusing once you venture beyond the commoner Riesling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc wines. It helps to have someone to guide you. My favourite house on this trip was Brown Brothers—their Patricia range was just yummy. Chrismont and Feathertop were two others with a wide selection of easy-to-drink wines. Although I didn’t visit Dominique Portet this time, he remains a favourite from this state.
Cherry Bar: This bar is the ultimate rock bar in Melbourne, maybe even in the world. Rumour has it that Lady Gaga was denied entry because she is not cool enough for a place where The Rolling Stones have hung out. The outside is covered in some zany graffiti. Inside, it’s still the late 1970s. Drinks are simple, live acts are super and the overall effect of this place is unbeatable.
The writer is a sommelier