Hayden Lambert, the guy who used to serve you some of the city's sharpest cocktails at the smallest bar in town (Matt Bax's standing-room-only 10-person Bar Americano), has traded up with a bar of his own that seats at least two more drinkers. It's a minimalist study in mesh, grey, smoky mirrors and soft light, with all focus on the central bar. The control deck is built for function, with drawers concealing bottles and tools so that drinkers might be sat ringside or behind Lambert on black benches with a tiny flip-out table. Drinks are predictably focused – a combination of classic Manhattans, martinis and daiquiris, with a selection of the bar's signatures, served in gold-rimmed glassware over pure, branded ice. Choose from the list or pick your favourite spirit and throw control to Lambert.
Level 1, 306 Smith Street, Collingwood, aboveboardbar.com
Head to Elysian Whisky Bar for your multiple-choice fix of spirits. Photo: James Neilson
Further up on Brunswick Street, two Whisky and Alement expats, Kelvin Low and Yao Wong, have opened a woody whisky bar pushing a lot of independent bottlings - whisky bought and bottled by private buyers from a single barrel of a distillery that tastes unique for not being blended. The knowledge behind the bar is as potent as most of the cask-strength whiskies on offer from Japan, Sweden, Scotland, Oz and the US. Take advice and buy half nips to try more. There are cocktails, charcuterie and cheese, beers and jazz, if whisky is not your thing.
113 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 03 9417 7441, theelysianwhiskybar.com.au
What do you get when you take the boys from Fancy Hank's and give them skyfacing real estate on Bourke Street? You get Good Heavens, a blue-and-white-and-umbrella-covered rooftop bar slinging Melbourne Moonshine, Harvey Wallbangers, cheeseburgers,and tater tots doused in blue cheese dressing. Carb-load in the sun like it's spring break in a CBD paradise.
Level 2, 79 Bourke Street, Melbourne, 1300 2747 538, fancyhanks.com
Whipped cod roe puffs at Ramblr. Photo: Pat Scala
The team behind fried chicken temple Leonard's House of Love has stepped up with Ramblr, a new Euro-focused smart-casual diner on Chapel Street. Chef Nick Stanton is making everything he can in-house: seven-day-fermented kimchi meets finely shaved calamari tossed in bone marrow for a dish inspired by instant ramen, while soft French cheese is set in a panna-cotta-like blancmange for a savoury-sweet dessert. There's a lunch menu of deli-style sandwiches and salads that moves towards more refined share plates at night, and celeb sommelier Matt Skinner has advised on the drinks list, which covers everything from local tinnies to French orange wines.
363 Chapel Street, South Yarra, 03 9827 0949, ramblr.com.au
Veal, paprika, caramelised onion and radish at The Recreation, Fitzroy North. Photo: James Morgan
There's an Epocha or Neighbourhood Wine vibe to this pub takeover by hospitality vets Steven Nelson, Joe Durrant and Mark Protheroe. It's a bistro/bottle-shop model featuring high-level service, vintage looks and lacy plates slinging a lot of owner-producer wines and letting diners buy off-shelf or even BYO for a mark-up. Nelson is bringing the rest of the party with French-ish bistro plates: black pudding and pear tarte tatin; rib-eye and compound butters. Get around it, Fitzroy North.
162-170 Queens Parade, Fitzroy North, the-recreation.com
Pontoon is the new downstairs venue at Stokehouse. Photo: Simon Schluter
Everything about the re-birthed Stokehouse is more casual, both downstairs and up. Pontoon on the ground floor acts almost like a pub, with numbered tables you'll need to lay claim to while sending a friend to order at the bar. With the casual spirit, the wine and beer lists have taken a bit of a hit - with only a few standouts among the big names - but most people are drinking frosé and Aperol spritz with their Mediterranean bar snacks anyway.
At the newly re-opened Stokehouse Upstairs, you'll recognise some of the classic dishes like the arched slice of strawberry bombe alaska, and the clientele is the same (big groups eating steaks and delicately plated salads while drinking Bordeaux and VBs), but you're looking at far more of a raw fish focus to the a la carte menu - soon to be available at the dedicated raw bar. The breezy design of rustic woods, and pan-pipe-like chandeliers of white plastic tubes sees the room roaring with the chatter. But perhaps the acoustics will be worked out by the time you finally land a booking (they're full until April).
30 Jacka Boulevard, St Kilda, stokehouse.com.au