Bendigo is known for its heritage, history and gold rush legacy – but there are some more contemporary draws lurking among this Central Victorian city’s leafy streets.
Chief among them, arguably, is Bendigo’s food and drink scene. From historical pubs restored to their former glory to basement dive bars, sun-licked beer gardens, rooftop cocktail bars and piano bars with drag queen hosts: this little city has quite the cross-section of watering holes. Here are seven of Bendigo’s best pubs and bars.
1. Rifle Brigade Hotel
Every city needs a failsafe pub where you can return again and again, safe in the knowledge that you’ll eat well, drink well, and enjoy the setting. Rifle Brigade Hotel is Bendigo’s go-to.
A Victorian-era boozer that occupies a sizable corner block, there’s nothing ground-breaking about this spot, known by locals as the ‘Gun Club’, but that’s all part of the charm. On the food menu, you’ll find standard pub fare (think burgers, pizzas, steak and seafood), while the drinks menu pays homage to Victoria’s wine scene.
There are a number of different spaces to choose between depending on your mood (and the weather), from the sizable courtyard at its rear to one of the tables spilling out onto the pavement out the front. Or just pull up a stool at the beautifully worn timber bar.
Expect classic pub fare on the menu at Rifle Brigade Hotel.
2. Handle Bar
When the sun’s out, there are few better spots in the city to idle with a drink in hand than Handle Bar.
The main calling card at this rustic, laidback Bendigo bar is its sizable, string-light-festooned backyard. Featuring a mishmash of astroturf, and brick and timber flooring, the piecemeal beer garden is a charming spot for sundowners with friends.
Handle Bar’s origin story is equally appealing, the result of a 2014 crowdfunding campaign that brought together more than 30 local donors who co-founded and now own the space. Handle Bar’s raison d’etre is simple: a relaxed setting that offers independent beer and regular free entertainment.
Spend an epic night out in Bendigo under the festoon lighting at Handle Bar.
3. The Basement Bar Bendigo
A subterranean drinking den, hidden within the confines of a former bank vault, The Basement Bar Bendigo has likely given rise to many a hangover.
Expect a dive bar vibe with a focus on craft beer and whisky at this centrally located spot, just across from local landmark the Alexandra Fountain – though you’ll likely find any cocktail requests met with warm enthusiasm too.
On Saturdays expect live music, while Sunday is open mic night. Gamers and big kids will also be thrilled to see that there are three free arcade machines to toy around on.
4. Piano Bar
A run-of-the-mill watering hole this ain’t. If a night spent propping up the bar down the pub feels a touch too pedestrian for you, might we recommend Piano Bar?
There’s perhaps no other Bendigo bar that boasts the same intoxicating mix of cocktails and carousing as this joint, which promises piano and vocalists, with songs played at your request, plus an alluring roster of drag queen-led events, from bingo to trivia and comedy sketches, with audience involvement very much encouraged – sing along and dance to your heart’s content.
5. Babylon Lounge & Garden Bar
Gunning for the title of Bendigo’s most chilled bar is this central oasis. The greenhouse-style ‘garden’ area is drenched in greenery and bathed in natural light, while the lounge area is as snug as can be, featuring forest green velvet sofas, dim lighting and a few quirky touches (hello faux fireplace and mannequin swinging from the ceiling).
There’s a mezze menu for when hunger strikes, and a solid range of craft beer, both on tap and in tinnies.
Make your way through the extensive cocktail menu at Babylon Lounge & Garden Bar.
6. Nimbus Rooftop
Bendigo’s first (and only) rooftop bar, Nimbus offers sweeping city views, as well as stellar cocktails.
You’ll find all the garden variety concoctions at this third-floor haunt (pina colada, moscow mule, bloody mary, margarita etc) as well as a couple of off-kilter options. The flamboyant (and aptly named) Flamingo, for example, has become something of a house signature – a heady mix of pink gin, strawberry liqueur, lime and grenadine.
Keep an eye on their Instagram page, as the venue often hosts masterclass events and live music.
7. Gold Mines Hotel
Few other Bendigo pubs boast a setting as stately as the Gold Mines Hotel. With its fretworked verandahs dripping with wisteria, a grand cedar staircase, Baltic pine floors, archways embellished with gold-leaf, stained-glass windows, and nearly a dozen fireplaces – this National Trust-listed property is a fine spot to linger over a drink.
Come summer, nurse a glass of Pimms in the expansive, leafy garden. And when winter rolls in, cosy up by one of the many fireplaces with a bottle of Heathcote’s finest shiraz. This historic two-storey edifice, built in 1872, reopened with new owners in late 2018, after receiving a very welcome spruce up.
Beyond its impressive beer and wine selection, you’ll also find a decent array of cocktails on offer, warm and friendly country hospitality, and a red-meat-heavy menu (think beef burger, confit duck leg, grass-fed porterhouse, and lamb rump to name a few).
Exploring Bendigo soon? Read our ultimate travel guide to Bendigo for more insider tips on where to stay, eat and drink in Bendigo.