Melbourne has one of the coolest cultures around, in terms of art, music, wine and food. If you’re planning a stay in Melbourne, reserve a night specifically to tackle its renowned small bar scene — a staple of Melbourne culture since the 1980s. The following is a guide to seven of the best small bar experiences in Melbourne as well as details around what it is that makes them so cool.
Right in the heart of Exhibition Street lies the funky little cocktail bar, 1806. The name is based on the date that the first cocktail was recorded in print. True to form, their cocktail list is a winner, and this bar has the accolades to back it up. The list consists of both traditional and modern cocktails, but regardless of your preference, every drink made here is a work of art. The bar also hosts a number of excellent events, including cocktail-making classes and mystery-themed nights.
Both bar and restaurant, Coda is an absolute delight for the palate. Merging Asian and European cuisines, the menu at Coda is designed to share; this makes it a great choice for group bookings. Conveniently located just off Flinders Lane, it’s a mere five-minute trot from Flinders Street Station. The place has a wonderful warm atmosphere. Although the wine list is very good, the menu is the winner here. Dish highlights include the chargrilled lamb cutlet with harissa and honey yoghurt, Hervey Bay scallop, pearl tapioca and Yarra Valley salmon caviar. Also try the blackened quail, daikon and shiso salad.
With a modern twist on the traditional, you can’t beat Lily Blacks and its stellar spirit line-up. Another Melbourne kaneway bar, Lily Blacks claims it has the “largest working collection of aromatic bitters in the world”. Its cocktail list is delightful, with highlights including the gin-based drink Heering Things, the tequila-based tipple Different Strokes and the spiced-rum cocktail Jesse James #2. The only shortcoming here is the small wine list, which consists of three reds and three whites.
Mr. Wow’s Emporium
A relative newcomer in the Melbourne small-bar scene, Mr. Wow’s Emporium is about atmosphere and experience. There is popcorn and pool, bright bitters and fruity brandy — and plenty of good times. Whether you are after a premium spirit, a fresh new cocktail or simply a place to park for a pint, Mr. Wow’s delivers on all accounts. It’s a place that cares less about how you dress and more about how you feel when you are there.
Siglo is a lovely rooftop wine bar that has a great view of Melbourne city. Regardless of the season, Siglo is a great place to chill out with a glass of wine. With fantastic service and a notable wine list, it works for a range of occasions, whether it is a catch-up with the girls or a family reunion. Although it doesn’t serve meals per se, its supper-style menu is full of delicious snacks — so you definitely won’t starve.
Hidden in one of Melbourne’s many laneways, Baroq House is an upmarket bar, dedicated to the grandeur of the baroque era. Baroq House is known for its passionate baristas and wonderful drink menu. Come dressed to the nines, park with your passion fruit martini and enjoy people-watching on a Friday or Saturday night!
Tony Starr’s Kitten Club
Close your eyes and jump into a different era at Tony Starr’s Kitten Club. Inspired by the watering holes of the `50s and `60s, the bar offers something completely different to the rest. With a myriad of events, including comedy and cabaret as well as regular live jazz performances, Tony Starr’s Kitten Club is more of an experience than a bar. The cocktail list is excellent, the service is impeccable and the atmosphere is totally unique.
Image by Grant’s Whisky From Flickr’s Creative Commons
About the Author: Ben Hill is a bartender and blogger. He has been involved in the Melbourne bar scene since the late `90s and has no plans to get out of it any time soon.