The measure of a good city is how many places you can go and
get liquored up sample rare and interesting beverages. By that metric, Melbourne is getting seriously loose. This year we got new whisky bars, gin lounges and secret underground speakeasies galore. And don’t even get us started on bubble cup espresso martinis or free-flowing raclette.
Here you go, Melbourne. The best new bars to open in 2017.
Murmur has been around for yonks, of course, but this is the year it morphed into a bona fide Chicago-style piano bar (minus the smoking). Tapas from Port Rosso downstairs, a classy new fit-out, and Matt Ganim blasting out Piano Man from over in the corner. One of our favourite new late-night pit stops.
Beneath Driver Lane
You won’t find any sign out the front of this place. It’s an unmarked black door on Driver Ln in the CBD, just behind GPO. Go down the stairs, turn a corner, and suddenly you’re in a rocking underground whisky and blues bar. One part New Orleans, two parts Paris. Just try the 3-cheese toastie with whisky béchamel...
If you like gin, you’re gonna love Bowerbird. It’s a classy little gin lounge that’s popped up on Bridge Rd. The house specialty is local, Aussie gins—the more boutique the better. Beer drinkers, don’t despair, they’ve got a solid craft range, including Barrow Boys, Wolf of the Willows and a Bodriggy Chuckaboo-White IPA from Abbotsford.
Probably the coolest speakeasy that opened all year. A tiny, minimalist, super-mod cocktail bunker inside the old Beermash (head through the unmarked door at the back, then down the stairs). Above Board is proof that you don’t need bells and whistles to run a good bar, just Hayden Lambert and a curated list of atomic-strength cocktails.
Whisky Den is a pint-sized Yokocho-style Japanese whisky bar in the CBD. And it’s been a long time coming. Now you can sit up at the bar with the other otaku (that’s whisky nerds in Japanese) and discuss the merits of Speyside vs Highland vs Yamazaki. If you’ve got a bigger party, head upstairs to the mezzanine level—the perfect spot to chill with a single malt.
Say hello to Melbourne’s first dedicated eSports bar. An underground drinking den where you can grab a burger, sip a cheeky cocktail, and cheer on your heroes in DOTA, HON, LoL, CS, PUBG and other acronyms you’ve never heard of before. Our pick? Go the LA Kalbi Burger and a side of kimchi fries. GGEZ n00bs.
Willows & Wine
One of those classic kick-yourself, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that ideas. A book-shop and wine bar, all in one, set inside a cosy vintage space on Victoria St, just near Queen Vic Market. Willows is the sort of bar locals love—warm, unpretentious, with plenty of nooks where you can curl up with a good dog-eared paperback.
We couldn’t leave off the most ambitious bar opening of 2017, right? Storyville stormed onto the scene a few months ago with their glowing toadstools, Narnia-style library and 14-ft golden birdcage. Melbourne frothed and the place was booked out for weeks. Swing by for a New York Peach cocktail—just watch for the fried grasshopper on top...
Queen of Spades
Board games, beer and burgers—that’s a hell of a combination. Queen of Spades is a new gamer bar that opened its doors on Smith St, Fitzroy. It’s kind of like the bar you dreamed of when you were 14. Pictionary, Settlers of Catan, rare award-winning titles like Mysterium, plus a full range of booze and greasy snacks. We’re game.
Ah, Punch Lane. We’ve had some good times at this place. So we were pretty stoked to hear the news they were launching Juliet, a subterranean wine bar downstairs, complete with live jazz nights and—wait for it—raclette! When it comes to date nights, that’s the golden trifecta. Booze hounds, try the Tequila Old Fashioned. It’s a cracker.
Fargo & Co
Richmond’s classy new cocktail joint. Fargo & Co took a decrepit, old bank building and turned it into something kind of wonderful. It’s ‘teller bar’ downstairs is still one of our favourite spaces in Melbourne, and the rooftop beer garden (with sunset views) ain’t too hard on the eye either. Order the Grandmother’s Ham and never look back.
If Ron Swanson ever came to Melbourne, he’d probably spend most of his time at The Whisky Boutique (and probably the rest at Meatmother). It’s an intimate bar (you can only get 12 people in at a time) specialising in all things single malt. Swing by for some tastings, then take home a bottle of whatever tipple takes your fancy.
The Palm Royale
You had us at palm trees and Red Stripe. The Palm Royale is a Tropicana-spiked Cuban cocktail lounge on Church St, just near the Bridge Rd intersection. In as much as a Melbourne bar can feel like a sun-soaked holiday, this thing does. They even have Coconut Cuba Libres on tap FFS. Slop on some sunscreen and enjoy.
Until now, ‘absinthe bar’ meant somewhere you went to get messed up, suck jello shots off someone’s belly button, and (hopefully) hallucinate stuff. Well not anymore. Absinthesalon opened in Fitzroy earlier this year, and it’s a proper Parisian-style absinthe lounge. That means classy drinks, stunning surrounds, and old-school service like you wouldn’t believe.
The Provincial Rooftop
Saving the best till last—The Provincial might be as old as Methuselah, but this year it got its very own rooftop bar, and daaaaamn does it have a good view. It’s actually hard to find venues like this outside the CBD, so props to the Provincial for giving us a second northside rooftop hang (don’t worry Naked In The Sky, we still love you).
Image credit: Fargo & Co | Griffin Simm