Asking a Melburnian to choose their favourite bars is kind of like asking a mother to choose her favourite child – if it were possible for someone to produce thousands of high-quality offspring.
The city is packed to the brim with cutting-edge venues and workers, who are equally as passionate about providing premium experiences as those who are the one receiving them.
Encapsulating the pinnacle of Melbourne drinking is no easy feat. The culture of alcohol spans world-class cocktail lounges, al-fresco gardens, sky-clad rooftops and dingy dive bars, serving the constantly-shifting fabric of the surrounding suburb.
However, commemorating incredible experiences is what we do best. So behold, in no particular order (we promise), the best bars that this thirsty city has to offer.
One of the most authentic Melbourne venues comes alive when it’s packed to the rafters, so it helps that this happens so often.
What was once an iconic 24-hour pizza/dive bar, clad with fluorescent lights and laminate tables, is now Bar Romantica: a sophisticated wine bar and restaurant that nods to its Italian past.
Wood-fired pizzas are served hot and puffy, alongside wines from small, sulphur-free bespoke makers. When the lights turn off, Bar Romantica turns on, coming alive with alcohol-fuelled jest.
Yes, it does its predecessor justice (they kept the pool table), but also reimagines nuanced appeal in a suburb blessed with countless late-night joints.
Try the: A beer from NSW brewery, Wildflower. A rare find in Melbourne’s bars.
Address: 52/54 Lygon St, Brunswick East VIC
Walls are lined with decorated skateboards (a nod to the iconic Prahran skate park), staff are all local, and the characters you’ll find inside are an ode to the suburbs best.
The menu features a selection of American classics, meaning you’re guaranteed a full stomach. And if you’d like to immortalise it, stay for a memento in the photobooth.
Try the: Zombie Bowl
Address: 218 Chapel Street, Prahran
If you could bottle what Fitzroy North is ‘supposed’ to feel like, Monty’s would sell it in droves. In fact, they somehow manage to package a quintessential suburb experience, sans the bells and whistles found at many of its peers.
There are only two beers on tap (one being their own), and 11 bottles on the wine list. Oh, and the food is prepared by 1000 Lire, and Just Falafs right next door. Simple enough for you?
Take a seat at the recycled church pew up the back, a bench stool, or a deep booth down the side and sip to the sounds of LP’s from the turntables tucked alongside the bar.
Try the: Italian Julip
Address: 209 St Georges Rd, Fitzroy North
Every city has a bar that tries it’s hardest to set the benchmark like Fargo does.
Housed in a 1900s heritage State Bank, the setting has been re-purposed as a bar, still retaining nods to its original colonial charm.
For locals, it’s the place to go for a mix of killer cocktails and beautiful people. It’s also home to one of the area’s best bottomless brunches – an addition that doesn’t go unnoticed.
Try the: Miss Fortune cocktail
Address: 216 Swan Street, Richmond
When a devastating fire ravaged Bimbo Deluxe in 2018, the owners had two options. They could close their doors for good, or they could go back to the drawing board, and pivot to evolve the much-loved space into something bigger and better. Thank god they chose the latter.
Since dropping the ‘Deluxe,’ the new Bimbo has shone in a way that does justice to the original. Revisit old favourites like $5 pizzas and infused vodkas, while saying hello to some welcome contemporary additions.
Try the: Ginger and Lychee vodka
Address: 376 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Back when rooftops were all the rage in Melbourne, Madame Brussels was the Alice in Wonderland shaped hole that satisfied the keen sky-goers.
This adorable themed bar sits on the outdoor roof in an enclave of the CBD, nestling itself nicely between the neighbouring concrete masses. It feels strangely other-worldly for its location, resting on the laurels of great décor and an equally great drinks menu.
Indulge in the garden-party lifestyle, and get used to service of Pimm’s, punch, rosé, and chicken sandwiches by staff in tennis whites.
Try the: Gin Garden
Address: Level 3 59-63 Bourke St Melbourne
Tetto Di Carolina screams opulence from the get go.
Much like its much-loved downstairs neighbour, Bar Carolina, this intimate cocktail bar plays ode to the best of elegant Europe. The cocktail list will transport you straight to the Mediterranean – Italian Americano’s, Aperol’s and Espresso Martini’s do it best. There’s also champagne with hefty price-tags and food that blurs the lines.
There six-metre bar features walnut stools for punters, alongside terrazzo tiles on the floor. Just don’t get lost on the way to the bathroom, the dimly lit ambience may make it hard to find your way back.
Try the: Cafe Decadente
Address: Level 1/48 Toorak Rd, South Yarra VIC 3141
A former $2 shop was given a new lease on life when Mr West entered the building.
Its space on space at this bar slash bottle shop. The upstairs is heroed by exposed concrete and timber, with upcycled furniture making way for an extensive array of seating. Oh, and there’s also a rooftop courtyard.
Across the 24 taps you’ll find local craft beers, as well as cider wine and cocktails, but if you’re hungry, Mr. West encourages you to jump on your favourite app and have food delivered from a local restaurant. Now that’s just good business.
Try the: Market Punch
Address: 106 Nicholson St, Footscray
Many argue that for a city as concerned with retaining charm as Melbourne, so many of its concealed spaces are underused. Beneath Driver Lane makes a case for the opposite, proving that many venues are doing the subterranean justice.
Housed in an old bank vault, inside you’ll find classic cocktails, warm blues music, seasonal cocktails and French-inspired bar food served until 3am. 7 days a week.
Try the: Nitro Martini
Address: Basement/3 Driver Ln, Melbourne
It’s hard to sum up somewhere as iconic as Leonard’s, so I’ll let them do that for you, a la the description on their website…
“An American style 70’s backstreet-bar, slinging burgers and booze to Melbourne’s’ hungry and hungover since 2015.
“Come down for a cold beer, fried chicken and a boogie. Let the House of Love treat you right.”
Try the: Leonards Bathtub Lager
Address: 3 Wilson St, South Yarra
Community shines at this cosy, local hangout. Stop here for a local experience packed with exceptional music, further attested by the fact this space used to be a record store.
You’ll find other sonic-nods speckled throughout. Staff members put their favourite LP’s on every night, and vintage records are proudly displayed alongside a wide array of spirits.
The spirits list in question is extensive, in addition to a generous selection of wines, showcasing the best local and international drops.
Try the: Cherry Bomb
Address: 368 Victoria St, North Melbourne
With plenty of experience helming relaxed restaurants, owner Gerald Diffey and manager, Mario Di Ienno, quickly made Gerald’s Bar a home away from home for many Carlton residents.
Inside you’ll find a snug, lively wine bar where guests are encouraged to throw their walnut shells on the floor. They’re also encouraged to indulge in the well-stocked wine list, which features a hearty selection that rotates depending on both seasonality, and the tastes of informed staff.
Try the: curated selection of wines that sit open atop the bar
Address: 386 Rathdowne St, Carlton North
Exclusivity reigns supreme at Above Board – a small intimate cocktail bar with only 12 seats and no standing permitted. What also reigns supreme, is owner Hayden Lambert’s commitment to unpretentiousness.
He decides which labels will be served that night, and conceals them behind the bar post decanting. This means that most patrons can’t even be sure what they’re drinking. It’s the perfect place for those who care less about labels, and more about a bespoke experience.
There are around 25 cocktails on the menu – both signatures and updated classics. However, unexpected combinations are common, so sit back (on one of only 12 bar seats) and watch the magic unfold before you.
Try the: Erin’s Delight – an ode to Lambert’s wife.
Address: Level 1/306 Smith Street Chopper Lane, Collingwood
St Kilda’s Fitzroy and Acland Streets command a lot of the suburb’s attention, allowing Misery Guts to just go ahead and do its thing. And do it well.
Its ‘thing’ is warm, welcoming and weird: potentially a nod to the lassez-fait lifestyle of its iconic Grey Street location?
Punters come to this watering hole for the classic cocktails, local beer and fine wines, but stay for the mammoth-sized cheese toasties.
Try the: Gonzo
Address: 19 Grey Street, St Kilda
Whitehart is what happens when you build a bar from steel beams and shipping containers. The result is pretty ‘Melbourne’ – translating to a venue where cool people come to a cool place to drink cool things in cool novelty containers.
Graphic designer Daisylegs created digital projections for the space, enjoyed on either the ground floor or elevated loft space. The drinks list focuses mostly on cocktails and local beers, with an added wine list for those in the mood.
Try the: Poor Tom’s Earl Grey Spritz
Address: 22 Whitehart Lane, Melbourne
Ask any Fitzroy local their favourite watering hole and Bar Liberty will come up.
This place does things a little differently. Oxidised wine served as an aperitif, bread comes with scissors and vegetable juice is used to dress scallops. In this case however, different is good.
Predominantly a wine bar, drinks are like the space itself: light and unpretentious.
Try the: Custom Orange wine (on tap) by Tom Shobbrook
Address: 234 Johnston Street, Fitzroy
17. Siglo, CBD
Climb to the top of a wraparound timber staircase and you’ll find a cube of industrial steel, glass and neon. This is Siglo.
An old favourite of the Melbourne CBD, pull up a Parisian wicker chair to panoramic views of Parliament, the spire of St Patrick’s Cathedral and the domes of the Princess Theatre.
Tables are donned with white cloths fringing a terrace, and the focus is on classic cocktails, spirits and champagne, as well as a selection of fine Cuban cigars and bar snacks.
Try the: Classic cocktails
Address: 2/161 Spring St, Melbourne
Vibrancy, colour and Cuban-charm prevails at this cocktail bar.
While certainly kitschy in décor – you’ll find palm trees, stuffed parrots and flamingoes throughout – it errs away from the cringe with nods to premium architectural flourishes.
Like the tropical design execution, the drinks list is rum-heavy, featuring a couple of gins for the punch-averse.
Try the: Mai Tai
Address: 438 Church St, Richmond
The folk at Oh Loretta love a stiff drink, or five. God knows they’ve earned it, being a bar run (and frequented) by hospitality workers.
This space is a shout out to proud veterans of the food and beverage trade, who have spent decades taking orders, turning tables and being run off their feet. It’s their turn to enjoy a good liquor cabinet, which is where Oh Loretta shines.
Their drink philosophy is to taste and test every glass, only stocking wine, cocktails and beer they are passionately in love with. And with hefty experience in the industry, we’re pretty sure you can trust their judgement.
Try: Whatever the bartender recommends!
Address: 324 High St, Northcote
Lots of venues try to tick every box, but not many do it as innovatively as Howler. Part al-fresco zone, part bespoke theatre, part live music space – it would be remiss to dub this multifunctional, multifaceted hub as just a bar.
Entry is via the car park directly opposite Brunswick City Baths, and inside you’ll find a vibrant crowd convening at the custom-built bar. Manned by cocktail guru Chris Lemulu, order one of his specialties, or perhaps something from the immaculate list of worldwide beers.
Try the: Hitachino Nest – an eclectically weird Japanese beer.
Address: 7-11 Dawson St, Brunswick
Where that venue zigs however, this one zags. Here, caution is nowhere to be seen, in an American-style rock ‘n’ roll bar begs that for a wild night out. This theme is further elevated by the jukebox in the corner, loaded with close to 100 rock albums from 1968 to 1980. Choose wisely.
Gone are restrained, sophisticated bespoke orders, replaced instead with a wild selection of rapidly-poured classics.
Try the: The Everleigh Bottling Co Negroni
Address: 234A Russell St, Melbourne