Hippo and Co
Garema Place, city
Wednesday to Saturday, 5pm to late
Hippo has been renovated and is laid back but luxurious with exposed brickwork and wood panelling. With its big glass-fronted balcony, the bar looks out over Garema Square and the comings and goings of a summer Saturday night. Get comfortable on the leather banquettes and low tables for a cosy chat. Or perch at the balcony bar amid the candles and watch the night life pass below. Hippo's spacious without feeling impersonal, comfortable without being cramped. The bartenders are chatty and cheerful, happy to help you choose a cocktail from the big menu, which includes Stop the Floats - a luscious blend of Sailor Jerry rum, sarsaparilla and creaming soda with a scoop of salted caramel ice cream. The speciality of the house is whisky, though, with more than 200 whiskies to try on the bar and weekly tastings on Thursdays.
41-43 Northbourne Avenue, Civic
Tuesday 5pm to late, Wednesday to Friday noon-late, Saturday 2pm to late
Soju Girl is a rare beast that actually does what it promises: it's a bar and a restaurant and is good at both things. The space is divided into two wings - the bustling restaurant on the left and the tapas and bar on the right. The food here is a standout, with lotus root chips a popular bar snack and little plates that include sushi of the day, oysters, fluffy pan-fried roti, and crisp and tender pork dishes. And the cocktails are well put together and interesting, often with an Asian twist. The signature soju bubble tea is loaded with passionfruit jelly balls while the plum dog millionaire is a mix of rum, apricot liqueur and Korean plum syrup.
16 Kendall Lane, NewActon
Tuesday to Sunday, noon to late
It's back with a vengeance. The tapas bar and wine room went up in flames two years ago but has reopened at the Diamant Hotel in the trendy NewActon area of Civic. The eclectic decor - grandfatherly chesterfield sofas alongside funky modern chairs and elegant chaise longues - has been retained and refreshed with turquoise and bright green colours. There's a big courtyard space for summer evenings. And the wine list is the work of someone who knows what they're doing, full of unusual choices.
Sydney Building, 32 Northbourne Avenue, city
Wednesday to Friday, noon to late, Saturday 4pm to late
The feature piece of this narrow bar on Northbourne Avenue is the crystal-beaded tree at the back of the room, which is just pretty when it's sparkling with lights. The bar is filled with high tables and mirrored walls downstairs, while a loft upstairs has tables looking out over the bar and the tree. The wine list is small - half a dozen reds and whites, a couple of sparklings. Likewise with the cocktail list, which includes classics like the cosmo and the bellini. It fills up quickly on Friday nights as chic city workers gather to celebrate the end of the week before moving on to dinner.
8 Franklin Street, Manuka
Wednesday to Sunday, 4pm to late
This Manuka bar upstairs and just to the right of Public (where the Julep Lounge used to be) is a new addition to the Parliamentary Triangle scene. The look is elegant but a little quirky. It's bordello meets political nerd: a curtain of shimmering beads, a screen print of old Canberra, a tiny stage and plush seating around low tables. It's intimate and there's table service, which starts with nibbles and water and goes on to an extensive cocktail menu and small plates. Try the centenary cocktail - a fruity, bubbly creation with cranberry and sparkling wine. There are cocktail classes with bartender Marti McGregor, monthly burlesque shows, and an event with the attention-grabbing name of Naked Girls Reading, on December 11.
Hippo's Louisiana Hook
60ml London dry gin
30ml fresh apple juice
30ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
15ml sugar syrup (boil sugar and water to a thick syrup)
fresh mint leaves
Campari orange ice sphere
30ml blood orange juice
60ml spring water
Put the orange juice, water and campari into an ice sphere mould (or use an over-sized ice-cube tray) and freeze. Shake the gin, apple and lemon juice and sugar syrup with ice. Put the mint into a glass, then the campari sphere, and strain the gin mix over.
Soju Girl cocktail
1 kiwifruit, peeled and pulped
30ml soju (from Korean grocers)
20ml lemongrass syrup (boil down lemongrass stalks with water and sugar to a syrup)
20ml lime juice
45ml cranberry juice
Put the ingredients into a cocktail shaker in this order: pulped kiwifruit; soju and Midori; lime juice, lemongrass syrup and cranberry juice. Add ice, shake, and strain into a glass (or pink takeaway box).
>> Natasha Rudra is a staff journalist.