Heartbreaker bar in the CBD nails the dive-bar brief. Photo: Paul Jeffers
A hot bar is about more than the thermostat. You need great drinks, smart staff, a fun crowd, and an elusive X-factor that's impossible to manufacture. These drinking holes all have it, and are worth putting on your dance card for the last days of summer (it's a leap year, we get an extra day).
An instant classic from day one, this dark and dirty city saloon nails the dive-bar brief. There's a killer jukebox, sticky pool table, wipe-down booths, enabling staff and the most Instagrammable neon sign in town. Masterminded by the crew from the Everleigh, it keeps it simple with tap beers, whisky shots, and four pre-mixed cocktails bottled like perfumes. Best for party punks
234a Russell Street, Melbourne, 03 9041 0856
A shamelessly upmarket wine bar for South Yarra's bright young things, this sleek venue is worlds away from the Chap-lappers of Prahran and the hipsters of Windsor. It's relaxed but refined, with Billecart-Salmon by the glass and substantial nibbles, such as pork terrine on crusty white bread. There's a brilliant courtyard choked in vines, and a sharp selection of Aussie wines to take away or enjoy on the spot.
Best for south siders
27 Toorak Road, South Yarra, 03 9866 4635
Lulie Street Tavern
Get in while you can – this warehouse site is set to be demolished next year, which is a shame because the low-key, single-room boozer might be the local of your dreams. Cast in an eternal blue neon glow, it's down-at-heel and gimmick-free, with longnecks, boilermakers and some of the most friendly staff in town. Pizza joint Rita's is over the road if you need a feed. Expect drink specials, live music and loose times.
Best for Abbotsford anarchists
Rear, 288 Johnston Street, Abbotsford, no phone
St Kilda was crying out for a bar like this. It's got a dose of Euro swagger, top-shelf snacks and 38 rums on the menu. Fronted by a sunny courtyard near the residential patch of Acland Street, there's a lengthy list of tapas bites and more than a dozen rum cocktails, from a powerhouse Zombie to Waking Up With Ron, a lethal spin on the espresso martini.
Best for beach babes
Unit 2/56 Acland Street, St Kilda, 03 9537 3582
Like a gateway to the gentrified north, this food truck hangout could be dubbed Welcome to Parenthood, such is the crowd of Bugaboo-pushing young families lining up for tacos and beers. It's a massive enterprise, licensed for over 700, but what could have been a high-concept nightmare is very welcoming indeed. Don't miss the Burger Invitational from March 8-9, when the city's best burger vans roll up for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
Best for pretty parents
520 High Street, Northcote, 03 9020 7940
Plus five to watch
We've got our eye on these new bars opening soon.
■ Slinky jazz bar, Bird's Basement, is coming near Flagstaff Gardens.
■ The peeps behind Milton Wine Shop are opening a still-unnamed newbie in Prahran.
■ La Luna's Adrian Richardson is pulling the sheets off his bar Bouvier in Brunswick East.
■ And a dream team from Rockwell and Sons and Attica are launching Bar Liberty on Johnston Street.