Restaurant Reviews

Australia's latest wave of new and secret bars

Whether it's a late-night dive, a brew-pub or a cave à manger you fancy, Australia's new wave of watering holes has it covered. Time to pull on your drinking shoes.

By Maggie Scardifield
Wines of While
Wines of While, Perth (photography: Lulu Cavanagh)

NSW

Old Mate's Place

When you hear the words "rooftop bar" in Sydney a dark abandoned library isn't what usually comes to mind, but that's Old Mate's Place, hidden away on the fourth floor of a CBD office building, and offering an open-air terrace – still an oddly rare thing in Sydney. Opened in August thanks to former Ramblin' Rascal Daniel Noble and his mates Andres Walters (Lobo Plantation, Kittyhawk) and Gabrielle Walters (Black by Ezard), the focus, Noble says, is on "serious drinking that doesn't take itself too seriously". Cocktails include a rum and sherry Pistachia with rhubarb and grape, and the easy-drinking Corky Lady Killer No 2 with gin and roasted peach.

What to order: A VB throwdown and Old Mate's version of a classic Philly cheesesteak: a hoagie roll packed with jamón.

Lvl 4, 199 Clarence St, Sydney, oldmates.sydney

*Old Mate's Place*
Old Mate's Place

She Loves You

Sometimes you want a bar that's more about your conversation than the management's Spotify choices. A place where, rather than leaving you to flounder through 300 bottles of varying quality and 50 cocktails, the bartender listens to what you want and pulls out just the right thing from a list that's as concise as it is smart. While co-owner Sophie Otton is one of the best sommeliers in the state, nothing about this, her first bar, screams "cork dork". Instead, She Loves You is the sort of place to curl up with a copy of The New Yorker from the shelf, or revel in the company of good friends. You won't be short of good things to drink.

What to order: There's not a bad wine on the list, and star US bartender Eben Freeman consults on the cocktails.

530 King St, Newtown, (website to come)

Rosenbaum & Fuller

Slated to open as we hit publish, Rosenbaum & Fuller sounds like a beach bar we can get behind. Cocktail bartender Lee Potter Cavanagh wants to give Sydney"real wine, honest food and fair coffee", no matter what the hour. "We have plenty of great cafés and bars, but very few that cater all day and night," he says. Daytime trade can enjoy Edition coffee and easy classics such as pumpkin scones, or at happy hour, $6 Poor Toms Gin & Tonics and Australian wine.

What to order: Cocktails pay tribute to some of the country's best cooks. Make ours a Shewry Gin Fizz with banana and green ants.

13 O'Brien St, Bondi Beach, (02) 9365 4134, rosenbaumandfuller.com

Bar Topa

This bolthole on Palings Lane is inspired by the tapas bars of Spain. Oil paintings crowd the walls, legs of jamón hang proudly above the bar, and whipped salt-cod dip, Gildas and sardines are plated up with nothing more than a point and a por favor. Martinis and Negronis are served as half-pours (for $8) and there's Sangria on tap and Basque wine to accompany the likes of botifarra a la plancha.

What to order: The half-Martinis are hard to beat, but grab one of the excellent steak sandwiches on a bun before they beat you.

4 Palings La, Sydney, (02) 9114 7368, merivale.com

*Bar Topa (photography: Nikki To)*
Bar Topa (photography: Nikki To)

Ode

Natural wine by the carafe. Mecca coffee. A charcoal grill. This charming café-bar-restaurant is many things at different hours. Breakfast includes Iggy's toast with soft-boiled eggs and smoky eggplant, while aperitivo might mean a glass of unfined Rosso Masieri from Veneto accompanied by mussels on toast. Ode chef Ben Abiad has clocked time at Dear Sainte Éloise and Sean's, so you can rest assured that pasta dishes such as cacio e pepe with anchovy, and Parma-ham agnolotti in parmesan broth have soul.

What to order: The wine list celebrates lesser-known minimal-intervention Italian, French and Australian wine. Try something new.

251 Bondi Rd, Bondi, (02) 9130 2894, odebar.com

Ode Bar
Ode Bar

Poor Toms Gin Hall

This white-washed gin hall in the industrial back streets of Marrickville isn't exactly a place you'd stumble across, but those who do are well rewarded. "People who find us have made an effort to be here," says co-owner Griffin Blumer. "We wanted the bar to reflect that." Mission accomplished: Poor Toms feels more like a house party than a gin palace. There's an illuminated shrine to their patron saint, Ginsus, the toilet is in the style of a confession booth, there's a Sunday sausage sizzle, and dinner comes courtesy of neighbouring restaurant Pizza Madre.

What to order: The three house gins are showcased in Martinis and Gin & Tonics, and there's also an eau de vie made with cider from foraged roadside apples.

6 Chalder Ave, Marrickville, (02) 9557 2282, poortomsgin.com.au

*Poor Toms Martini*
Poor Toms Martini

SA

Cry Baby

For his début venue, Hains & Co alumnus Jon Di Pinto has built his dream bar. Named for the '60s Janis Joplin track, Cry Baby has all the dive bar essentials. Pool table? Check. A jukebox with 80 hand-picked albums spanning the Stones, Led Zep, Blondie and yes, Janis Joplin? Check. Not to mention the Pabst Blue Ribbon tins and the bar nuts (either smoky or spicy). Slide into one of the green velvet booths for a round of Alabama Slammers and a Sunny's pizza from next door. In the words of Joplin: "I'll always be around, if you ever want me."

What to order: The house shot is maple-laced Buffalo Trace bourbon.

11 Solomon St, Adelaide, 0452 199 082

*Cry Baby, Adelaide*
Cry Baby, Adelaide

ACT

Molly

After a six-month hiatus, Molly is back at it in smart new digs in the historic Melbourne building. Where once you'd descend via an unmarked stairwell, now you head upstairs to a space that's twice the size, but just as discreet. Barrel-aged Sazeracs, Torontos and Negronis await, chased with the likes of Scotch eggs, duck pâté and old-fashioned service. She's just as saucy as her predecessor, with leather banquettes, a copper-topped bar and a grand piano for jazz night, and the Molly Vault returns in the form of a private 55-seat bar on the mezzanine.

What to order: With over 500 whiskies in Molly's collection, choose your own adventure.

Melbourne Building (entry via Odgers La), 59-81 London Cct, Canberra, molly.bar

*Molly Bar, Canberra*
Molly Bar, Canberra

VIC

Bar RomanticaIs it a romantic idea for a Melbourne bar to serve exclusively Victorian craft beer, local spirits, sustainable wines and predominantly organic Victorian produce deep into the night? Not if you ask the folks at Lygon Street newcomer Bar Romantica. This thoughtful late-nighter makes the likes of kangaroo tartare and Jean Foillard Côte du Py at 4am, all with a side of cool, its business. On tap is an impressive line-up that might include Collingwood's Stomping Ground, Alphington's La Sirène or a smoked porter by Cheltenham's Wolf of the Willows.

What to order: Crudités with smoked cashew butter – and just about anything on the wine list.

52 Lygon St, Brunswick East, (03) 9191 9410, barromantica.com.au

*Applewood Negroni at Bar Romantica*
Applewood Negroni at Bar Romantica

Juliet Melbourne

Neon pink-lit Juliet celebrates the talents of women in the drinking world with a list stacked with pours from female producers and distillers. Cocktail names, meanwhile, take their cue from literature; Shakespeare inspires the Casa di Giulietta, for example, made from gin infused with black tea, ginger liqueur and almond syrup. The bar also does a nice line in G&Ts – New Zealand's Island Gin, perhaps, with tonic water, lemon and burnt thyme.

What to order: Hit the I'm Feelin' Lucky button. You choose your spirit and your mood, and the Juliet team matches it.

Basement 37-41 Little Bourke St, Melbourne, (03) 9639 4944, julietmelbourne.com.au

*Juliet, Melbourne*
Juliet, Melbourne

Galah

Step through a bottle shop slinging minimal-intervention wines, then climb the stairs to find a warehouse space with a DJ spinning vinyl and a mood that celebrates all things Australian. Native flowers and tropical plants decorate the place, you'll find all your favourite boutique Australian spirits, such as Archie Rose gin, plus the likes of wattleseed kangaroo loin with candied macadamias, and lamb ribs with Kampot pepper. It's all-out Australiana without the kitsch.

What to order: A Miss Peach, Galah's take on a Peach Sour, made with tequila, lemon juice, peach liqueur and peach syrup.

216A High St, Windsor, (03) 9521 5325, galah.melbourne

*Galah Melbourne*
Galah Melbourne

Arlechin

This tiny bar, the newest addition to the Grossi family's hospitality stable, has all the sophistication of Florentino with the spontaneity and fun of Cellar Bar. To look at the dramatic vaulted ceiling and the stained glass in the wine cabinets, you'd never guess it was born by accident. "We took the space over as a cellar for all the venues," says Guy Grossi, "and then it dawned on us to turn it into a bar." Start (or end) your night with Italo- Australian wines, and cocktails by Romeo Lane's Joe Jones. And keep things ticking over with sourdough bread with moretum, a Roman herb and cheese spread, or a cabbage steak with fermented chilli. The best part? The kitchen's open till 3am.

What to order: A twirl of Midnight Spaghetti with sugo, colatura di alici, capers and chilli, is a must.

Mornane Pl, Melbourne, (03) 9662 2413, arlechin.com.au

*Arlechin (photography: Sarah Anderson)*
Arlechin (photography: Sarah Anderson)

WA

Wines of While

Meet Wines of While: a 50-seat cave à manger specialising in minimal-intervention wines chosen by chef-owner Sam Winfield. European in both inspiration and flavour, it offers no wine list, just a blackboard that changes a few times daily. The approach in the kitchen is similarly relaxed – think pasta all'arrabiata, or a plate of white beans with braised rapini to match your glass of Sicilian Lamoresca Rosato.

What to order: A magnum of Cantina Giardino's skin-contact T'ara rà Greco, best enjoyed out the front catching the late-afternoon Western Australian sun.

458 William St, Perth, (08) 9328 3332, winesofwhile.com

Wines of While, Perth
Wines of While, Perth

Juanita's

"Come as you are, drink what you like" is the mantra at this Subiaco watering hole. Owners Luke Foyle (late of Lulu La Delizia and The Old Crow), Anthony Princi and Jeremy Diaz (both of Bivouac Canteen & Bar) have brought a new energy to the south end of Rokeby Road. "We're calling it South Rok," says Foyle. Formerly an art-supply store, there's a bohemian spirit in its styling (vintage squash rackets and all) and regular takeovers from winemakers. The wine list is made up of staff favourites, and there's house-made parfait and terrines, too.

What to order: Foyle's salt and vinegar chips are the perfect foil for a Blood & Sand: here a shot of equal parts rye and Campari.

341 Rokeby Rd, Subiaco, (08) 9388 8882, juanitasbar.com.au

Jaunita's, Subiaco
Jaunita's, Subiaco

QLD

ÔÔ

Don't stress about the name and how to say it. Just order another cocktail. Perhaps a Deadly Viper Assassination Squad (Archie Rose vodka, umeshu, watermelon and lemon juice) or The Man From Okinawa (a Gin Sour with shiso liqueur). All the cocktails at restaurant Hôntô's bar, ÔÔ, are named for Kill Bill characters, and you can almost imagine the Crazy 88 storming the hidden entrance on Alden Street. Opened in August by Tyron Simon, Frank Li and the team behind Longtime, there's a lot to like – more than 120 Japanese whiskies, for starters.

What to order: We're hoping the lobster katsu sando makes it from the restaurant to the bar (which is pronounced "double-o", by the by.)

Alden St, Fortitude Valley, (07) 3193 7392, honto.com.au

Savile Row

Martin Lange describes his new Fortitude Valley speakeasy as "artist Richard Hamilton and David Bowie, feet up on a Chesterfield, drinking Rob Roys by candlelight and playing Uno at 1am". Count us in. It's slightly more extravagant than Cobbler, with an Italianate mural, luxe wallpaper and a whopping great chandelier. Whiskey, sherry and amari feature heavily on the 900-bottle back bar, or get those feet up with a classic prepared by dapper uniformed staff.

What to order: The Butterscotch Old Fashioned: butterscotch whisky and grappa stirred with spiced manuka honey and macadamia bitters.

667 Ann St, Fortitude Valley, savilerowbar.com.au

TAS

The Den

Finally, a sophisticated bar in Tassie where you're almost guaranteed a spot by the fireplace. The tables outside are set around two custom-built gas fires; and inside, a luxe two-storey scorcher with a brass-plated flue takes centre stage. Bar manager Etien Celzner is behind cocktails such as the Tas Berry Sour, made with McHenry gin, Pimm's, Fernet Branca and a syrup steeped with rosemary and lavender foraged (read: nicked) from front yards in Battery Point.

What to order: There's whispers of an off-menu stash of Glaetzer-Dixon's La Judith Shiraz.

63 Salamanca Pl, Battery Point, 0499 888 233, theden.com.au

The Den, Hobart
The Den, Hobart
SHAREPIN
  • Author: Maggie Scardifield