February 07, 2023
24 mins Read
The best Canberra bars demonstrate the fact the nation’s capital is undergoing somewhat of a renaissance when it comes to its drinking scene. In addition to celebrating its three distinct wine regions, Canberra bars now showcase drinks produced by local distilleries, breweries, and even a cider house.
In fact, we’re calling it. Canberra bars are some of Australia’s best. There’s no better place to satisfy your sense of discovery during a weekend away Explore the city’s museums, galleries, gardens and parliamentary attractions, then pull up a seat at one of these top bars.
Canberrans live rich lives. They are surrounded by nature and culture under big, vast skies in a city ranked as one of the best in the world for liveability. Life has got even better in Canberra thanks to creatives such as Nick Smith, owner and GM at Bar Rochford, which Good Food Guide editor Callan Boys described as ‘the best bar in Australia’.
It wasn’t just the giant portrait of Tim Rogers from You Am I that Boys was frothing over. He waxed lyrical about everything from the funky pet-nats to the elegant arched windows, to the turntables, bottle-green booths and art. Yes, this bar is on point. But as well as being a great boozer, Bar Rochford is to be commended for its food and was recently awarded one hat in the 2023 Good Food Guide.
Bar Rochford is tucked away in the iconic Melbourne Building in the heart of Canberra. And it’s full of hip young Canberrans who have been around the world and back again to sling spirits and vinyl in the city they grew up in.
Must try: Smoked beef tongue with anchovy mayo and a glass of the 2022 Stratosphere Viognier from the Canberra District.
Address: 65 London Circuit, Canberra
Monster Kitchen & Bar is a beast. It’s a behemoth of a place that is like a shrine to maximalism, with every little detail adding layers of colour and depth. It’s paradise for the bourgeoise, with oddly shaped fixtures and finishes that are an antidote to all the stuffy hotel lobbies in the land.
Ensconced in the Ovolo Nishi Hotel, Monster Kitchen & Bar is much more nuanced than just instagrammable clickbait. It’s kitsch. It’s kaleidoscopic. It has everything from pops of Barbiecore pink to the studied elegance of Mid-Century furniture and an array of rugs that look like they’ve been fashioned from Fraggles.
It’s easy to digress when trying to digest this monster of a place. It’s a sugar rush of joy shot through a shotgun of cray-cray. The cocktails are a major part of this fun Canberra bar. Raid the mini bar for a few prees (the free pre-drink drinks are one of the perks of staying here), and then sign up for some boldly tinged cocktails and killer bar snacks. Granted, it’s plant’d (plant-based). So it’s only natural that the conscious cuisine is paired with wines that are better for the planet, too.
Must try: The potato bread with salted and cultured butter.
Address: 25 Edinburgh Ave Canberra
Ainslie locals have been heavily invested in Edgar’s Inn for decades. This Canberra bar is an institution. One of those buzzy little venues that you see dotted around Canberra’s satellite suburbs making everyone’s lives better. Wakefield’s Bar & Wine is a fairly recent and very welcome upstairs add-on to Edgar’s and The Inn and it’s all kinds of wonderful.
The warmly lit space has a list of more than 100 Australian wines and is a charming spot to stop in for considered bar bites in the leafy neighbourhood of Ainslie. Have a blustery walk around Lake Burley Griffin before heading upstairs to this wonderful venue with a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
Besides being a real beauty, with bookcases and burnished bench tops, and touches of brass, arranged around an array of neat nooks, the food prepared by chef Steve Jacomos (ex-Saint Crispin) is bang on.
Must try: Absinthe makes the heart grow fonder. Order oysters and a Dr Green Thumb cocktail.
Address: Shop 2/1 Wakefield Gardens, Ainslie
Capital Brewing Co. is one of the largest independent craft breweries in Australia. That’s just one of the reasons it is on our radar. The brewpub was the first brewery in Australia to achieve B-Corp certification in August 2022 for its entire organisation as well as all its beers. That’s a good shout right there.
The back story is that the brewery was opened by a bunch of active types who like to capitalise on the capital’s proximity to the mountains. That dedication to enjoying the backcountry by skiing, hiking and biking, was what inspired the team to pursue its eco credentials, certified by the Federal Government Climate Active accreditation. We’ll drink to that over a Trail Pale Ale or two.
Must try: A Hooley Dooley Aussie Pale Ale which has been dry-hopped the absolute dooley out of. Pair it with a Piri Piri burger from the Brodburger van, one of Canberra’s most family-friendly restaurants.
Address: 1 Dairy Road, Fyshwick
It seems only fitting that a striking artwork by Scott Chaseling greets diners to Such and Such in Canberra. The art of bar-hopping has a lot to do with the ambience and Lacuna Trippy sets the tone: that fun is one of the fundamentals. Of course, the fact you can also eat really, really well here feels positively indulgent.
The eatery is an outpost of Ainslie’s two-hatted Pilot restaurant and the hand-blown colourful glass sculpture is one of many artworks on show in the eatery, which is located in the cultural precinct near Canberra Theatre in Constitution Place.
Designed by Mark Brook of mymymy interiors, the space is divided into a bar, main dining room, and private space defined by dramatic green velvet drapery. The bar and restaurant are designed to be the kind of place where you can drop in for a bevvy and a bar bite or sit down to a low-key dinner before or after a visit to the theatre.
The focus of the wine list is on interesting Aussie and international wines: trust the waiters when they steer you into unknown territory. The deceptively simple fish in crazy water is reason enough to visit Canberra. Clever cooking. Great cocktails. Fun staff. There’s much to love about Such and Such.
Address: 8/220 London Cct, Canberra
Getting around to all of Canberra’s sites of national importance is thirsty work. We recommend heading to The Pearl, a magical spot for a few cocktails in the heart of Canberra’s CBD. The Pearl occupies the ground floor of a two-storey space that is also home to red-hot restaurant Wilma upstairs. Fitted out with woven rattan pendants, and bar stools, and a rooftop sprouting with greenery, this really is a thrilling place to be and one of the best new bars in Canberra.
You will find scores of locals here milling about for after-work drinks. There’s men with gigantic ear piercings. Women wearing outfits with wow factor. And students who come here to kick on during happy hour. The Asian-inspired cocktail bar is as playful as the restaurant upstairs and a great place to perch before or after dinner at Wilma. We’re hot for anywhere that has hair-of-the-dog cocktails and snag sangas as ‘snax’. Do your Civic duty. Go get it.
Must try: The Raspberry Frapple with lime, apple, raspberry and Grainshaker Vodka.
Address: 1 Genge St, Canberra
This inspired restaurant and bar is part of the new Tiger Lane precinct, set to become one of the hottest places to wine and dine in Canberra. The restaurant is a flashback to 1960s Japanese retro-futurism and, as well as creating cult dishes such as quail karaage, and sashimi tacos, has killer cocktails such as the Yuzu gimlet and Inari negroni.
Shaun Presland has named the restaurant after the Japanese god of rice, Inari, so expect some incredible sake and cocktails in this fun and lively venue, which has added a splash of neon-bright colour to the outskirts of the Canberra Centre. Presland is also about provenance and part of that #supportlocal plan is to source rice grown in the nearby Murrumbidgee and Murray valleys of southern NSW.
Inari is an introduction to the broader Tiger Lane precinct, which is set to include 12 hawker-style eateries and bars upon its completion early in 2023.
Frank Condi is Canberra’s answer to hotelier Justin Hemmes. Over the years, the entrepreneur has gifted residents of the ACT with some of Canberra’s best bars and best cafes.
Public is a modern pub located in the precinct of Manuka. In addition to the Public Dining Room, one of the most family-friendly restaurants in Canberra, there’s a sprawling pub and modern beer garden and an upstairs bar overlooking the suburb’s streetscape.
Public has an extensive selection of spirits and liqueurs, tasty cocktails and an unrivalled wine list. It’s full of smug locals who take advantage of the weekly happy hour specials from 5.30-6.30pm Thursday to Saturday.
Must try: The French martini, recently named Public’s Cocktail of the Month.
Address: 1-33 Flinders Way, Griffith
Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play? The lyrics to the Beatles’ song Dear Prudence are what inspired the name of this bar, which is located in an elegant corner of Verity Lane Market under the arched curves of the iconic Sydney Building. We will definitely come out to play in Dear Prudence, where staff are quick to help you choose from an extensive range of vermouths, aperitifs, cocktails and wines.
The dimly lit bar off a reimagined laneway is the kind of cosy cupboard-sized space you’d find in the back streets of Barcelona. It’s all exposed brickwork and original wooden rafters, layers of peeling paint and pops of pink whispering stories about the building and its past. Tenants over the years include the Department of Defence, the South African High Commission, as well as a sports store and butcher.
Choose from a concise menu of Spanish-style small plates designed to share such as smoked pimento with a side of Smith’s Crisps, and plates of cheese, salami and pickles. Expect some sick beats: owner Phillip Keir was once the publisher of Rolling Stone magazine. Linger longer at sister bar, Louie Louie, a bar named after the song by The Kingsman, and a venue dedicated to all things gin.
Must try: The Old-Fashioned along with Losada peppers and stracciatella.
Address: 102 Alinga St, Canberra
Designed by award-winning Sydney firm Luchetti Krelle, Leyla is the rooftop bar in Canberra we didn’t know we needed. Take a lift up to the rooftop to enjoy sweeping views of the city’s low-rise skyline, Lake Burley Griffin and beyond. By day, Leyla operates as a sunlit cafe and lounge for guests of the Burbury Hotel. But come nightfall, Leyla puts feathers in her hair and becomes a showgirl, transforming into a sophisticated cocktail bar.
From the dramatic entranceway to the light-filled interiors, the designers have gone to town with the highly sculptural space which is defined by beautiful curves, statement skylights and a retro-futuristic bar. Don’t forget to look up: Leyla was nominated for the 2022 Eat Drink Design Awards and we think the greenery in the ceiling, the large windows that fold back, and the glittering semi-circle of back-lit onyx behind the bar helped give it some gold stars. The beautiful booths and acres of autumn-toned travertine tiles also add warmth.
Leyla is a looker. The bar feels more Byron beach club than Barton when you’re sipping on your Co-La-Di-Da (Bacardi, pineapple, lime chocolate bitters). It’s located in the new-look Burbury Hotel, which is under the Doma Hotels umbrella and located on the footsteps of Parliament House in the Realm Precinct. If you want to stay grounded, head to the Ostani Bar downstairs which has a beer garden.
Must try: The Just Peachy Grey Goose white peach and rosemary, Rhubi Mistelle, grapefruit, lemon and whites alongside a prawn brioche roll.
Address: 18 National Circuit, Barton
Want to get up to some high jinks in the nation’s capital? Head to the bar named after a term that translates to ‘boisterous or rambunctious carryings-on’. Originally named after a dice game, a roll of the dice here might see you go with some girlfriends to gossip about the cute bartender. Take your love interest on a first date. Or impress your business colleagues by arranging TGIF drinks here.
Despite being hidden down at the basement level in the heart of the city, word is well and truly out about High Jinks, which won ACT Cocktail Bar of the year in 2021 and 2022. Wander through the garden opposite the Nishi building and head for the elevator to find this dinky bar located in the buzzy cultural precinct of New Acton.
The wine list at the 60-person underground venue is limited to Canberra district wines only, and the concise menu of cocktails uses everything from soda water to shrubs to enhance the drinking experience. Bar bites are also done right: pass the spiced chicken wings and a slice of pizza, please.
Must try: Come for the signature Lord Jim Zombie and stay for a cocktail class.
Address: Basement 2/15 Edinburgh Avenue, New Acton
The new glamorous side of downtown Canberra is evident in this dark and moody bar which is located at street level at the swanky designer hotel, QT Canberra. The Capitol Bar & Grill shows off Canberra’s suave side and is sitting pretty on London Circuit. It’s the belle of the ball, with everyone from students to Canberra’s A list making a beeline here to talk about internationally important goings-on.
The central bar is open on all sides and there are beautiful banquettes, bar stools, and outdoor seating on the terrace to choose from. The food has an American accent with mini lobster rolls, popcorn chicken and duck pancakes all popular choices that pair well with the signature list of 11 seasonal cocktails.
QT Canberra is one of the best places to stay in the nation’s capital. Go fossicking at Gorman St markets before hiring out Lucky’s Speakeasy, which takes patrons back to the 1920s. Think classic cocktails and cool music at this atmospheric bar.
Must try: The Vanilla Passionfruit Pisco Sour.
Address: 1 London Circuit, Canberra
Did someone say mezcal? Well, shang those smoky, strong aromas up your nostrils. Loquita is low-key lovely. Mezcaleros have been brandishing bottles of this potent spirit since distillation began in the late 16th century.
Drinking mezcal is an experience. Embrace the complexity of this lesser-known liquid in between nibbles of tried and tested taco pescado (tempura fish) and taco de pollo (chicken), which are also infused with tradition. Feel the pull of Mexico in this pretty pink pared-down setting which is all mod Mexican minimalist chic: think polished concrete floors, clusters of cacti, alcoves and arches. The sister bar to Wilma and Pearl is a must-visit.
Must try: The Liquita-Rita with the secret taco (which changes weekly).
Address: 17 Garema Place, Canberra
Find the dinky lane off Lonsdale Street marked with a red neon light and you’ll literally stumble into Bacaro. This tucked-away small bar attached like a sidecar to Italian & Sons is full of stalwart supporters. Some are waiting for a table at Italian & Sons next door, others are here for wood-fired pizza on offer on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
One of the main draws in this elegant bar is the aperitivo menu. Once you’re inside, sidle up to the marble-topped bar and order an amaro and a selection from the enviable list of antipasti.
Bacaro has a massive wine selection with its own range of reds and whites, which you’d be silly not to try. The small bar is owned by The Trimboli Group, which also has Mezzalira, offers more formal fine dining and is considered one of the best restaurants in Canberra.
Bacaro is modelled on an Italian-style bar and is moody and elegant in an understated way with a wood-fired oven at its heart adding to the atmosphere.
Must try: Barrel-aged Negroni: Antica Formula Vermouth, Campari, and Sicilian xxx gin.
Address: 7 Lonsdale St, Braddon
Molly Bar is a chic, well-designed throwback to the Prohibition era and a dark, discreet place to go when you’re in party mode. It’s all rhythm and booze when you stop for a tipple at Molly Bar, a swinging jazz club that hosts local musos each week for a swinging good time.
The theme is strictly 1920s, so this is certainly the place for you if you enjoy a bit of jazz and like to stick to the classics when it comes to cocktails.
Devotees of dive bars will enjoy the speakeasy vibe at the bar, which has a house band on Sundays and ‘Jazz on the Rocks’ on Tuesdays where Canberra’s best local talent take to the mic. Tucked secretively behind a doorway in Odgers Lane, the backlit bar is like a private parlour and the laid-back ambience encourages you to linger.
Good golly, Miss Molly. Sign us up for the bar snacks such as lobster rolls, and Reuben sandwiches and let’s get a bit wobbly on the whiskey.
Must try: The Commando: Bourbon, Cointreau, Absinthe and lemon.
Address: Wooden Door, Odgers Ln, Canberra
If you can’t get to Cuba this year, head to Canberra’s Cuban-themed bar Highball Express instead. There’s nothing clandestine about ordering cocktails muddled up from the more than 300 varieties of rum on offer.
This colourful bar speaks to Canberra’s remarkable renaissance as a destination for drinking and dining. Ask the bartenders to help you get a handle on what to order as they love to help elevate your experience.
Known for its cocktails, punches and exotic rums, Highball Express pays homage to a time when thirsty Americans made their way to Cuba and landed in paradise.
Shake it up with a cocktail class, try Latin dancing on Tuesdays and Tiki Thursdays, complete with flaming torches and a range of drinks that are influenced by rum culture. With its pops of watermelon pink and mint green, Highball Express is perfect for a night out in pretend Havana.
Must try: Crab tostadas and kingfish taquitos with a Cuba Libre served in a highball of course.
Address: 82 Alinga St, Canberra
You no longer have to tether your horse to the posts at the front of The Old Canberra Inn. These days, there’s a car park out the back of the coach house, which was built in 1857.
This atmospheric, low-ceilinged pub in Lyneham, not far from the Federal Highway, is now a fun, low-key family-friendly flophouse with a leafy beer garden, DJs and a more sophisticated take on pub food, as well as taps from which rotate a variety of craft beers. It’s one of the best pubs in Canberra.
The pub, which champions live music and has lots of lived-in leather lounges, is conveniently located for travellers coming to and from Sydney or Melbourne. Are you a fan of skinny dipping? Sign up for the annual Ian Lindeman Winter Solstice Nude Swim and then thaw out near one of the cosy fireplaces at The Old Canberra Inn with considered pub grub such as lamb kofta meatballs, or a cheeseburger with pickles.
Must try: Moroccan spiced pork belly strips with a Cosmo Seawater Kolsch from Ocean Reach Brewing on Phillip Island.
Address: 195 Mouat St, Lyneham ACT.
Joe’s Bar at the East Hotel gives a wry wink to Canberra’s Brutalist architecture with its custom concrete curtain a stunning centrepiece. The dramatic curtain, conceptualised by Kelly Ross, of Kelly Ross Design, contributes to the bar’s theatrical and quirky vibe, and is perfect for the brand that bills itself as ‘the small bar celebrating big things’.
The colourful, quirky lobby bar is mobbed by locals and guests who want to muse about art, society and politics. Joe’s Bar recently revamped its menu of Italian-inspired drinks and food. A wood-fired pizza oven now takes centre stage and we’re all about the Montana with speck, pumpkin, buffalo mozzarella and basil.
The bar is located on the ground floor of the East Hotel, next door to Agostini’s, one of the most family-friendly restaurants in Canberra. Linger over some classic cocktails and contemporary Italian fare with fellow nocturnal types. The bar is a little bit ‘extra’, with vivid velvet furnishings, a marble bar and striking light fixtures.
Must try: Peperonata pizza with an innovative Italiano cocktail such as the Spicy Joe, a take on the margarita in a glass rimmed with black salt.
Address: East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Griffith
Bar Beirut is a love letter to Lebanon. Established by owner and bartender Soumi Tannous, who learned his craft in the underground nightclub scene of war-torn Beirut, the bar is, says Soumi, like the country’s buzzing capital: welcoming and cosmopolitan.
Soumi says people who like to party describe Beirut as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’. And his aim is to bring people together with music and dance and rebrand his beloved Beirut as a city that is a sophisticated and vibrant place to be. Bar Beirut hints at that city’s pulse and a microcosm of all of its most fabulous facets.
Bar Beirut has all the glamour of a bar in downtown Beirut. The lighting is enticing, the bar a dazzle of pink-painted walls, and the banter in Bar Beirut hinges a lot around travel. Soumi is always up for a chat, and the burlesque dancers keep the mood lively. Enjoy big, bold punchy flavours that marry the Middle East with the Mediterranean such as grilled octopus, kofta, and charred chicken.
Must try: Pumpkin with goat’s curd, dukkah and fennel, smoked baba ghanoush and white bean hummus with Lebanese bread with a mango lassi with house-infused cardamom vodka.
Address: 25 Garema Place, Canberra
The best Canberra bars of today look a lot different to some of the capital’s hot spots from the 90s, when grunge was having its heyday. No, we don’t wish for a time machine. Canberra bars have done a lot of growing up. Hippo Co. transports hipsters and lovers of jazz and whisky to the Prohibition era in the American midwest.
A couple of decades on, you can still don a flanno and feel right at home in this Canberra bar, which has been going strong since the noughties.
The dimly lit lounge bar has a hunting lodge vibe with warm timbers, well-loved leather sofas, Art Deco fittings and fixtures and taxidermic creatures. Although the bar had a revamp about a decade ago, the focus on whiskies remains. Like many of the best Canberra bars, there’s a focus on live music with a tight menu of whisky-forward drinks and inventive cocktails. Order the Roadrunner (dark rum, curacao, thyme, honey, lemon and angostura) or barrel-aged negroni.
Must try: The Rye-ball (rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, angostura bitters, tonic) alongside a house jaffle (the only option on the menu).
Address: 1/17 Garema Place, Canberra
Everyone loves a brewpub. And Bentspoke Brewing Co is one of Canberra’s most celebrated craft breweries. The charming industrial-style beer hall has been welcoming thirsty patrons to its Lonsdale St digs since 2014 and is a stalwart of the Australian beer scene.
Owner Richard Watkins (former head brewer at Canberra’s Wig & Pen) has twice been crowned Australian Champion Brewer and together with partner Tracy Margrain has opened a production-scale brewery in Canberra. And while this means you can get BentSpoke Brewing Co. bevvies outside the nation’s capital, it’s worth paying them a visit while you’re here.
Want a big full-flavoured brew to enjoy at one of the best bars in Canberra? We rank the Crankshaft. And so do those beer geeks who voted it No. 1 in GABS Hottest 100 Aussie Craft Beers Poll in 2020 and 2021. Get a few salt ‘n’ pepa squid sliders on the side and join the Saturday night frenzy with DJ Nate.
Must try: The Barley Griffin. A mild cloudy Australian pale ale.
Address: 38 Mort St, Braddon
Paranormal Wines looks pretty stock-standard from the outside. But, using the powers of telekinesis, a Canberran clairvoyant told us there’s paranormal powers at play here on Provan Street that goes beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding.
It could be that owner Max Walker (former GM at LP’s Quality Meats) was referring to the fact the majority of his wines have a minimal intervention focus. They’re out-of-this-world drops.
A quick browse of the Paranormal Wines website and you’ll see a predilection for pink things writ large. This space is not for mere mortals. Rather, it’s for those who also like pink things, fizzy things, orange things and light and bright things.
Don’t wait for the planets to align. Add this to your itinerary of the Canberra bars to sample interesting drops and start your journey toward becoming a bona fide oenophile. Sit and sip and enjoy cheese, charcuterie and premium tinned fish to accompany your organic wine.
Must try: The Eduardo Torres Versante Nord 2019 made mainly from Nerello and Mascalese grapes.
Address: G27/6 Provan St, Campbell
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There’s a new joint in Braddon called Volstead Repeal too!