While hotels are forever falling over themselves to impress with infinity pools, pillow menus, refurbs and celeb chef collabs, sometimes all you really want is a good bar where nobody knows your name.
I’m calling it: hotel bars have played second fiddle in this country for far too long. And for good reason. For my generation, the sheer mention of a hotel lobby bar still conjures up a shuddering image of fluffy cocktails, cheesy piano and sleazy businessmen. But thankfully – taking their cues from the glamour of hotel bars past – today’s riffs on the standard are becoming worthy destinations in themselves, providing a strong defence for keeping it in-house.
1. The not-so-Melbourne Melbourne bar
In Melbourne, where if a bar isn’t hidden up a rickety staircase or located next to a stinky skip then it’s not worth knowing, even locals have warmed to the city’s most brazenly un-Melbourne bar, Rooftop at QT. The view alone is well worth the lift journey, and exposes a side to Melbourne that few other venues do. They shake a mean margarita too.
2. Distilling the art of the perfect cocktail
Further afield in the Mornington Peninsula, super-slick newcomer Jackalope at Willow Creek Vineyard is venturing beyond its vinous roots, offering an eccentric, distillation-themed cocktail lounge, Flaggerdoot to its luxurious offering. Championing classic aperitifs and whiskeys from around the world (and craft spirits from just down the road), it makes a fine spot for a sundowner.
3. Where pisco and politics collide
At Canberra’s Monster, there’s no guarantee that you won’t bump into an off-duty pollie, but you can be sure of decent drink until well into the wee hours. Located in the lobby of Hotel Hotel, this all-day venue welcomes diners from 6.30am and cocktail fanciers at any hour of the day (within reason, of course). Try the ‘Division Bell’ with mezcal, Aperol, maraschino syrup and fresh lime.
4. The dive bar revived
As hotel bars go this rakish former pub is far from cookie-cutter. Adjoining the reception of The Old Clare Hotel in Sydney’s Chippendale, The Clare bar pays homage to its not-so-distant past as the grungy dive bar of choice for students from the nearby UTS. When the sun’s shining, you’d be mad not to head up for a leisurely spritz by the stunning rooftop pool and bar.
5. Write your own travel story
The newest jewel in Hobart’s increasingly blinged-up crown is MACq 01 hotel on Macquarie Wharf. With its plush seating, circular fireplace and killer views across the river and the city, the hotel’s moodily-lit Story Bar is a great excuse for bypassing the outside chill. The drinks list is studded with plenty of Tassie stars, and warming up with a dram of Lark single malt whiskey might just be the perfect way to get acquainted with the local culture.
6. A library where drinking is more than permitted
Though not officially part of the hotel, Petition Wine Bar & Merchant is close enough to Perth’s COMO The Treasury to rate as a natural extension of it. Located in the revitalised State Buildings, this stylish wine bar/enoteca encourages leisurely browsing through its extensive wine ‘library’ which is filled to the ceiling with interesting local and international drops from small producers.
Leanne Clancey is our regular Eating Out columnist. Leanne is a freelance writer, restaurant critic, author, salami judge and self-appointed aperitivo authority based in Melbourne. When she’s not writing, assessing cured meats or uncovering obscure holiday destinations, you’ll find her acting as an official ambassador for Scarf – a social enterprise that provides hospitality training and mentoring for young people from Melbourne’s migrant and refugee communities. You can follow Leanne on Instagram and Twitter at @tourdeclance.