As the title suggests, I wanted to get my list of twelve great bars that opened in the city this year finished in time for Christmas - but then life got in the way and delayed completion of this blog post. If I'd been writing a list that included new bars in the suburbs, The Everleigh, the Carlton Wine Room and the tiki-tastic LuWOW would've made the cut for sure (sorry Southside, but none of your new bars have rocked my socks this year - what am I missing?).
1. Chez Régine (became a whisk(e)y bar this year)
270 Russell Street, Melbourne (map)
0420 309 660
Open Thursday-Saturday 5pm-late
Yes technically this bar opened in 2010, but in 2011 Chez Régine effectively reinvented itself as a bar specialising in whisky/whiskey (there are nearly 200 varieties on offer at last count, from Scotland, Ireland, America, Canada, Japan, Australia, and even India and Sweden). Although Chez Régine is only open three days a week, on Fridays they're open until 5am and on the last Monday of every month they host meetings/tastings of the Single Malt Collective, which is exactly what it sounds like. They've also got plenty of other liquor to drink neat or in cocktails, plus a good range of beers.
2. Ponyfish Island (got its liquor licence in January)
Under the Southgate Footbridge (on the island), Melbourne (map)
0426 501 857
Open daily 8am-1am
Jerome Borazio (of St Jerome's fame), Grant Smillie and Andrew Mackinnon launched the open-almost-all-hours cafe/bar Ponyfish Island on the island underneath the Southbank Footbridge at the start of the year. I had breakfast there in March. It survived a chilly winter and is now pumping again as Melburnians flock to the waterside (such a lovely shade of water, the Yarra River) for Fat Yak and Bulmers on tap.
3. The Den (opened March)
The Den at The Atlantic
Riverside Promenade, Crown Entertainment Complex
8 Whiteman Street, Southbank (map)
Open daily 5:30pm-3am
Hidden under Donovan Cooke's flash seafood restaurant and oyster bar The Atlantic on the Crown Riverside Promenade lurks The Den, a moody bunker of a cocktail bar. The good news is that it's open until 3am every night of the week, and the cocktails (including one made with tobacco infused Diplomatico Anejo Rum, served to you at your table in its own cigar humidor) are pretty fancypants.
4. Bar Americano (opened June)
20 Presgrave Place, Melbourne (map)
Open Monday 8:30am-4pm, Tuesday-Saturday 8:30am-11pm
In early June, in a laneway off a laneway the site formerly known as micro-cafe Pushka was reborn as Bar Americano, the much-anticipated city sibling of Der Raum. In contrast to its Richmond counterpart, Bar Americano is much smaller (the room fits a maximum of 15 customers), more traditional in its mixology (ten cocktails to choose from, and thar be no liquid nitrogen or Aperol-filled syringes here) and more Italian (the free snacks served at aperitivo hour, the antique blue "Sali e Tabacchi" sign outside, the gorgeous fitout of white tiles, wood paneling and copper benchtops inside). The commitment to high standards for cocktails remains the same, and during the day they'll even serve you a freshly-squeezed blood orange juice, a panino and a coffee. Note that it's cash only and despite what it says on their website, on Mondays they close at 4pm. A new city favourite of mine.
5. The Lui Bar at Vue de Monde (opened July)
The Lui Bar
Level 55 Rialto, 525 Collins Street, Melbourne (map)
Open Monday 5:30pm-midnight, Tuesday-Wednesday midday-midnight, Thursday-Friday midday-3am,
Saturday 5:30pm-3am, Sunday midday-6pm
Amid great fanfare, Vue de Monde relocated from Little Collins Street and reopened at the top of the Rialto halfway through the year. And guess what, it now comes with a top notch bar where you can grab a drink even if you're not shelling out $250 for dinner or $150 for lunch in the restaurant (sadly, Vue de Monde's $60 one hour express lunches are no longer on offer, but may hopefully make a return in the future). The Lui Bar not only gets the best views across the bay and down Albert Park Lake, but serves excellent cocktails (check out the Lui Martini, with add-your-own vermouth, bitters and garnishes, and the Negroni with an ice *sphere* instead of ice cube) and classy bar snacks like the David Blackmore Wagyu beef tartare pictured.
6. The Bottom End (opened September)
The Bottom End
579 Little Collins Street, Melbourne (map)
Open Wednesday 4pm–12am, Thusday 4pm–2am, Friday-Saturday 4pm–5am, Sunday 4pm–12am
55 floors down and half a block away from The Lui Bar sits its polar opposite, a bar taking blithely trashy kitsch to a whole new level. The Bottom End markets itself as a pub/diner/disco and comes to you courtesy of Michael Delany-Korabelnikova, the man behind Honkytonks, Sorry Grandma! and Third Class. What can I say? The beer list includes a suggestion that you try a 'Lagerita', the wine list is divided into 'cheap'/'reasonable'/'good', the spirits list distinguishes between 'tough shots' and 'shots for girls', the cocktail list includes a truly horrifying-sounding Australian Martini (vodka, Cointreau rinse, vegemite smear, coon cheese, pickled onion). I think you get the idea - but it's all in good fun. They've jumped onboard the American diner food trend bandwagon - we didn't think much of the Philly cheese steak or the po boy, but the NYC Buffalo wings and the grilled parmesan & artichoke dip were both excellent. Upstairs there's a late night 'house music club for the gents' tastefully named Poof Doof, and the red-nippled statues downstairs only partially prepare you for the NSFW wallpaper in the womens and mens toilets. The place is ridiculous, but that's the whole point.
7. The Aylesbury Rooftop (opened September)
103 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne (map)
Rooftop open Monday-Saturday 3pm-late (Fridays open from 1pm)
Restaurant open for lunch (12pm-3pm) Monday-Friday, dinner (6pm-late) Monday-Saturday
The ground floor site that housed chic pizzeria Barbagallo for just under 18 months reopened in late September as The Aylesbury, the second effort from the folks behind Añada. While I've had some mixed food experiences in The Aylesbury's restaurant, I *love* their tiny rooftop bar with its copper benchtop and open terrace (enter via the restaurant and take the elevator). The view over the buildings and treetops of Lonsdale Street is gorgeous, and the tapas I've had up there are very good (my pick is the Dorper lamb ribs crumbed with zataar). Hopefully they put the 'Ping Pong at 5' (white port, lime, sugar and tonic) back on the cocktail list soon.
8. Go Go Bar downstairs at Chin Chin (opened October)
Go Go Bar
125 Flinders Lane (enter via Higsons Lane or Chin Chin restaurant), Melbourne (map)
Open daily 4pm–3am
Whether you're waiting for a table at the ridonculously popular Chin Chin or just want a couple of drinks and snacks somewhere off Flinders Lane, go to Go Go Bar. Thai-inspired hotspot Chin Chin keeps its bar hidden under the stairs like some unpopular nephew, but the black-walls-and-neon Go Go also has its own separate laneway entrance. The drinks menu is rather cleverly divided into Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter sections, both to reflect Melbourne's four-seasons-in-one-day weather and to give patrons guidance on the characteristics of the cocktails, beers and wines on offer on each page. The cocktails are very reasonably priced (most of them $15) and several of them have a Thai bent - I'm a big fan of the Thai Basil (gin, kaffir lime, fresh pressed lemon and palm sugar with a floating Thai basil leaf). There's also a snappy list of bar snacks, some of which replicate the menu upstairs and some of which (like the delicious, so-hot-right-now pulled pork sliders) are unique to Go Go. My advice: go.
9. San Telmo (opened October)
14 Meyers Place, Melbourne (map)
Open Monday-Friday 7am-1am, Saturday noon-1am
I wrote about new Argentinean restaurant San Telmo when it first opened, and have enjoyed subsequent visits even when it's only been to grab a drink at the back bar. Apart from one Champagne the wine list is an all-Argentinean affair, with many of the wines sourced directly by the San Telmo team and unavailable elsewhere in Australia. There are Patagonian tweaks to the cocktail menu (like the Bloody Maria made with chimichurri), and some interesting Argentinean beers (I like the Antares Porter) and Ferran Adrià's Inedit beer along with the Aussie brews on the list. Nibble on empanadas or ceviche, and try to resist the smell of meat cooking on the restaurant's parrilla coal grill.
10. Strange Wolf (opened October)
Basement 71 Collins Street (entrance via Strachan Lane off Exhibition Street), Melbourne (map)
Open Wednesday-Friday 5pm–3am, Saturday 8pm–3am, Sunday 8pm–late
Previously the lurid Cabana Club and the gimmicky, fluctuating-drink-prices-on-the-stock-market Trader Bar, the bar under the sidewalk of Exhibition Street has been reborn as Strange Wolf. It's the new venue from the owners of the Grace Darling Hotel on Smith Street, who have pared the interior decor waaaaaay back. They've also put Trumer Pils, Mountain Goat and Coopers on tap and added a reasonably-priced local wine list, cocktails and bar snacks. Opening hours suit both the suits and the night owls.
11. Bar Ampère (opened November)
16 Russell Place, Melbourne (map)
Open Monday-Friday 8am-3am, Saturday-Sunday 10am-3am
Vernon Chalker, the dirty uncle of Melbourne's bar scene (think Gin Palace, Madame Brussels, Collins Quarter), opened Bar Ampère on Melbourne Cup Day next door to Gin Palace. I have to give him props for the bold concept and design of Bar Ampère, for it is like nothing else I've seen in Melbourne: an ode to Futurism, the movement that started in Italy in 1909 and spread to Paris before becoming associated in the 1920s and 1930s with Fascism. As an Italian nerd that studied Futurist art and design at university (and wanted to write her Honours thesis on the use of Futurist concepts in Fascist propaganda), I was always going to be fascinated by this place. The fists sticking out of the wall clutching naked light bulbs, the cogs and levers evoking machines from Modern Times or Metropolis, the predominance of concrete, glass and metal. The overall effect is ice cool and interesting rather than cosy. The wine list is largely French with an unusual emphasis on Lillet, vermouth and other aromatised wines, and bar snacks like chicken liver parfait or egg and soldiers with rosemary, porcini and chilli salt come served on clinical metal trays. For an extra touch of the bizarre, check out the 'Swamp Room' - the secret back corridor room connecting Ampère with Gin Palace.
12. EDV Melbourne (opened November)
1 Malthouse Lane, Melbourne (map)
0412 825 441
Open Monday–Saturday 5pm–1am, Sunday 5pm-11pm
Last but by no means least comes the newest (and my personal favourite) of 2011's new city bars, EDV Melbourne. The Melbourne outpost of Sven Almenning's celebrated Sydney speakeasy Eau de Vie, EDV Melbourne is fronted up by dapper hooch guru Greg Sanderson (Black Pearl, The Attic) and hidden behind an unmarked door down a laneway off Flinders Lane - look for the plain door with the brass handle near the steps leading down to the Medina reception. There's all manner of technical wizardry here (including liquid nitrogen on tap, a Melbourne first if I'm not mistaken) befitting the epic cocktail menu, and the cocktails are first class: early favourites are the Vendeuse Martini and the Yuzu Mule. Old school jazz crackles over the speakers and a sliding door disguised as a bookcase reveals a private room (complete with private lockers for hire so you can store your own booze on the premises). Bookings are taken from 2 to 10 guests, and there's a great bar food menu ranging from tapas to more substantial dishes, care of chef Mark 'Fluffy' Favaloro (previously sous chef at MoVida).
One extra special feature at EDV Melbourne: the cocktail degustation (the first of which my friend and I attended as guests of EDV). For $130 per person at a communal table in The Library seating 20, guests are served a five course deg matching cocktails with food in a very fun, interactive and theatrical evening. Highlights included the DIY Martini (gin poured from a vintage 1930s cocktail shaker in the shape of a silver heeled lady's leg), the seafood platter, the punch served with duck and mango salad, the deconstructed Red Snapper (served with a white truffle rim, a spiced noodle and diced celery) and the Zacapa Old Fashioned served warm (heated with hot Japanese garden stones) rather than chilled and accompanied by a chocolate and chicory brownie. To cap off the evening, Greg flawlessly decapitated a magnum of Champagne with a sabre (sadly, not pictured!).
EDV cocktail degustations are held on Wednesdays to Saturdays at 7:30pm - contact Greg to book.
Aaaand my work here is done! But go ahead and tell me: which other new city bars did I leave out? Which new bars in the suburbs have you fallen for?