Drinks News

Best new bars of 2013

It's been a blockbuster year for bar openings in Australia. Here are our top picks of the year's crop.

By Maya Kerthyasa, Pat Nourse & David Sly
Wild Rover, Sydney

It's been a blockbuster year for bar openings in Australia. The burgeoning booze scenes in South Australia and Queensland have both seen a flurry of new and interesting additions, while Sydney has gone into overdrive. Among other things, we're seeing tonnes of rum, a focus on laid-back fun (we're talking five-dollar cocktails in plastic cups and beer in cans, here) and a whole lot of tiki goodness, for a start. Here are our top picks of the year's crop. Let's line them up and knock 'em down.

Clever Little Tailor
Previously a vintage store, this 60-seat, twin-level boutique bar melds hipster cool and plush comfort, running from 1920s-inspired lanterns to exposed-stone walls and upholstered booths. The drinks aren't cheap, but you get what you pay for, whether you're talking craft beers on tap and a small, high-turnover wine list, or luxurious classic cocktails - try a Negroni made with Dolin French vermouth, and graze on small plates of smoked almonds, duck rillettes, prosciutto and the like. Clever Little Tailor, 19 Peel St, Adelaide, SA, 0407 111 857

The Gallery
Packed pretty much as soon as it reopened, The Gallery has had an extensive renovation that has doubled its size. This eclectic venue takes in art gallery space, dining areas and a large function room, but its main appeal is the epic rooftop bar with a large retractable roof and nice wall of potted plants. The Gallery, 30 Waymouth St, Adelaide, SA, (08) 8211 8820

Little Miss Miami
A pop-up bar (the site will be turned into apartments in 2014), Little Miss Miami has whitewashed-board interior, potted palms and hot flamingo-pink neon, all bound to make it the toast of summer. Last year, the same guys created the wildly popular Little Miss Mexico in an adjacent site, and the same upcycled, freewheeling vibe is in evidence in this cleverly designed space. Little Miss Miami, 74 Frome St, Adelaide, SA, no phone

The Loft Oyster & Wine Bar
Perched in the former first-floor studio and balcony space once occupied by Australian Dance Theatre, The Loft's charms include a plush interior and sharp table service, led by Martin O'Connor (previously of Onyx Dessert Lounge). The wine list is compact but interesting, as is the strong cocktail list, accompanied by a small menu led by Coffin Bay oysters prepared in a variety ways. The Loft Oyster & Wine Bar, 1/128 Gouger St, Adelaide, SA, (08) 8211 8887

The crew from Press and Melt have opened a cool side-street bar with two levels and a cute little balcony deck upstairs. Dim lighting, waistcoated bar staff and bottle cabinets running high to the glowing ceiling set the scene. It's a popular hang with wine-industry types, and the list is impressive - but so too are the cocktails. For bites, there are addictive pumpkin seeds, or more substantial toasties, filled with the luxe likes of cheese, jamón and Tasmanian truffle. Proof, 9a Anster St, Adelaide, SA, (08) 8212 0708

Listen up, beer and cider lovers: Brisbane newcomer Brewski has more than 70 craft varieties on offer - IPAs from Yeastie Boys and Sierra Nevada, and Brew Cult's Supa Fly Rye among them. Pair that with a relaxed room and unpretentious atmosphere and you've got good times all round. Brewski, 22 Caxton Street, Petrie Tce, Brisbane, Qld

The Gresham
With its heritage digs and old-fashioned vibe, The Gresham has no shortage of old-world charm. It's housed in the old National Australia Bank building in Brisbane's CBD, and offers a handsome selection of Bourbons and uniquely Queensland-flavoured cocktails (take, for example, the Bowen Mule: a blend of mango purée, fresh ginger juice, lime, ginger beer and your choice of booze) in surrounds that'll take you back a couple of eras, no time machine required. The Gresham, 308-322 Queen St, Brisbane, Qld, no phone

Pineapples? Tick. Coconuts? Tick. Cocktail umbrellas? Tick. Jungle, the new venue from The End Bar family in Brisbane's West End is so tiki-tastic it almost hurts. On the booze front it's all Piña Coladas, Mai Tais and Floridian Fizz (a refreshing blend of gin, lime juice, palm sugar syrup and apricot brandy topped off with dry ginger beer), while the bamboo and bric-a-brac-rich fit-out makes for a sensory overload of the best kind. Jungle, 76 Vulture St, West End, Qld, no phone

Lefty's Old Time Music Hall
Jason Scott, one half of the team that brought Shady Pines, The Baxter Inn and Frankie's to Sydney, conjures the Shady magic in his hometown with this spectacular venue. All the hallmarks of the Sydney bars he's involved with are here - plenty of taxidermy, a finely crafted, rollicking country-leaning soundtrack, exotic beers, many of them offered in tins, and plenty of room to sit and chat - but it's a grander-looking affair, crafted along larger, less subterranean lines (love that mezzanine). Scott and his partner in the Brisbane business, restaurateur Jamie Webb (best known for Cabiria and Peasant), have also brought food to the mix, with a fittingly American-leaning menu of beer-and-shot-friendly eats. The good times are rolling. Lefty's Old Time Music Hall, 15 Caxton St, Brisbane, no phone

Sabotage Social
Our Queensland editor, Fiona Donnelly, calls this Valley newcomer a counter-culture whisky bar that channels the spirit of the 90s. It offers more than 50 different whiskies, snacks on skateboards and a room decked out for maximum good times. We like. Sabotage Social, Cnr Wickham & Gipps sts, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, Qld, 0427 979 029

Bar Economico
When landmark cocktail bar Der Raum closed its doors earlier this year, little did the bottle-watching community expect it to reincarnate as a rough-and-tumble rum-focused Jamaican-style boozer. But boy, are we glad it did. Gone is the membership palaver, the $25 (and up) drinks and smoke in jars, replaced with drinks in plastic cups for as little as a fiver, caged-off drinking areas and an unmistakably Caribbean vibe. Having said that, Economico might be laissez-faire in looks, but it's by no means slapdash in the mixing department. The crew is serious about the rum and the talent behind the bar will make sure it's blended well - whether it's in the form of a Poco Loco Tea Punch (rum with fresh lemon and a smoky tea syrup) or Wrong Island Iced Tea (a blend of aged and spiced rums, pisco, curaçao, fresh citrus and cola). Plastic cups in the air! Bar Economico, 438 Church St, Richmond, Vic, no phone

From the makers of Melbourne favourites Cookie, Revolver Upstairs and Toff in Town comes Boney, a rock 'n' roll bar and band room on the old Pony site serving up gutsy late-night eats from Cookie chef Karen Batson (we'll take the buttermilk fried chicken and zucchini pancakes, please), plus a decent portfolio of classic cocktails and live tunes till the early hours of the morning. Boney, 68 Little Collins St, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9663 8268

Thomas Olive
What do you do when you find yourself running Melbourne's busiest new restaurant? Well, if you're Scott Pickett and Joe Grbac you add a bar. Thomas Olive, the new drinking hole atop their smash-hit Collingwood eatery Saint Crispin, combines a mix of 1930s-style cocktails with a killer whisky portfolio and a selection of small eats from the menu downstairs (eel croquettes? yes please). We'll drink to that. Thomas Olive, Upstairs, 300 Smith St, Collingwood, Vic, (03) 9419 2202

Enrique's School for to Bullfighting
Though they'd just about qualify for inclusion on the strength of the excellent name alone, Enrique's, a pop-up restaurant-bar hybrid from the teams behind The Beaufort St Merchant and The Trustee, serves some of the most exciting Spanish-influenced cocktails and wines Perth has to offer. Expect cold-drip Negronis, tailor-made G&Ts and Spanish snacks aplenty. Enrique's School for to Bullfighting, 484 Beaufort St, Highgate, Perth, WA, (08) 9328 9918

Cliff Dive
No, you haven't died and gone to tiki heaven. You're at Cliff Dive, the latest from the team that brought Tio's to Sydney. The bartenders wear Hawaiian shirts, the drinks range from rum-spiked apple and pandan juice to Supa Coladas (a tasty concoction of rum, coconut cream, pineapple juice and coconut sugar syrup), and the vibe feels more underwater booze lair than city central. Things get night-clubbier as the evening wears on, with a strong focus on music. Oh, and with the licence running till four in the morning, the evening can wear on for a good long while. Take a deep breath and dive in. Cliff Dive, 16-18 Oxford St, Darlinghurst, NSW, no phone.

Earl's Juke Joint
Back in the day, they used to call the triumvirate of the Oxford, the Bank and the Town Hall hotels the devil's triangle. In the rapidly changing new Newtown, the Oxford has long since become Zanzibar, the Bank has been thoroughly jazzed up and the Townie - well, the Townie just keeps on keeping on. The triangle you may lose yourself in today, though, will probably have Midnight Special at one corner, Mary's at another, and Earl's Juke Joint at the last. They all share impeccable music, a raucous vibe and (in the case of the last two, at least) surprisingly excellent booze for those who want it. Earl's can't match Mary's for food or the Special for intimacy, but behind the old Betta Meats façade, former Shady Pines manager Pasan Wijesena and his team have created an epic bar where fun is most certainly number one. The beers are interesting, the cocktails are better than they need to be and the vibe is convivial. The devil, it seems, has pretty good taste. Earl's Juke Joint, 407 King St, Newtown, NSW, no phone.

Lobo Plantation
Descending from the madness of peak-hour Sydney into Lobo is like entering another dimension - a deliciously Caribbean-flavoured dimension whose denizens know their rum and know it well. On any given day they'll have about 150 different cane distillates behind the counter, which you can take neat or in the form of a cocktail from their judiciously curated list. Combine crisp, balanced drink-making with sharp service and you've got one of the CBD's favourite new haunts. The Lobo Plantation, basement lot 1, 209 Clarence St, Sydney, NSW

The crew at this grungy Newtown favourite may do things simply, but they sure do them well. Drinks-wise you're looking at a deeply eclectic mix of craft and easy-drinking beers, fun cocktails (Malibu Daiquiri, we're looking at you) and a truly astute edit of natural and biodynamic wines. On the snack front you've got what are considered by many authorities to be the best burgers and fried chicken in town. Are you ready to rock? Mary's, 6 Mary St, Newtown, NSW, no phone

What Simon McGoram doesn't know about cocktails probably isn't worth drinking, which is why, after years behind the stick at some of the city's finest watering holes, it's so great to see him pop up as a partner in a bar of his own. It's the sort of bar that'll please cocktail nerds and the casual drinker alike. If you want to know how they make their own falernum for the Corn 'n' Oil, they'll tell you; if you don't, they won't. It's an invitingly boho space, but the one place they haven't skimped is on the quality of the hooch and the training of the staff. Reliably potent and crisply balanced drinks are a mainstay. Neighbourhood, 143 Curlewis St, Bondi, NSW, (02) 9365 2872

Papa Gede's
Call it the rum renaissance, call it getting seriously caned, call it what you will - rum was Sydney's first currency, and as we stare down a wave of new bars focused on this most tropical of spirits, it seems like it's definitely having a moment again circa right now. At Papa Gede's, the look and feel is voodoo, the cocktails are impressive. If rum's not your thing, fear not - there's plenty of absinthe on the shelves, and you can always content yourself with a Cognac-based Psychopomp Sour, the gin, honey, salt and Montenegro magic of the Gambling Priest or a bowl of Burger Rings. It's a small, cosy sort of place, tucked down what has got to be the city's sweetest little laneway, and the chances are you'll find personable service and some real hands-on bespoke polish to the drinks. Papa Gede's, 346-348 Kent St, Sydney, NSW, no phone

Riley St Café & Wine
Tiny bar, this, and it overflows with good tunes and the force of owner and "mistress of the vine" Gabrielle Webster's personality. She's deeply invested in the list, a very personal but far-reaching package, and she's not shy of a hand-sell. Most days there'll be a magnum or jeroboam of something good open and on pour, and if things are a little too early for the fun-juice, the coffee is also reliably decent. Whether you're playing it hard or soft, the Italianate menu, fashioned largely from the reserves of top-notch bread, cheese and salumi behind the counter, hits the right notes. Riley St Café & Wine, 222 Riley St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 8093 9807

Wild Rover
Proving that the Irish bar of today doesn't have to be a paint-by-numbers pastiche of old tin whistles, Guinness posters and potato buckets, the Rover distils the essence of the craic into a fresh-looking two-tiered venue with a curiously compelling jungle theme to the décor. With the team from CBD favourite Grandma's running the show, the drinks come present and correct, whether you're talking something loaded with the house-specialty Irish whiskey (the Jane Doe sees 12-year-old Redbreast stirred down with Del Maguey mescal, Drambuie and bitters) or just a split of Champagne to throw back with the oysters. Wild Rover, 75 Campbell St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 9280 2235