Dunning Kruger review

Owner Gene Mills behind the bar.
Owner Gene Mills behind the bar. Photo: Justin McManus

436 Lygon St Brunswick East, VIC 3057

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Opening hours Mon-Fri 4pm-11pm, Sat-Sun 3pm-11pm
Features Licensed, Bar, Vegetarian friendly
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard

So first up the name. Dunning-Kruger, for all those with lapsed Psychology Monthly subscriptions, is an effect where people with "low cognitive ability" suffer from an "illusory superiority" that makes them think they're much smarter than they are. We all know someone suffering from this, even if it's just the face in the mirror.

So what's this got to do with a bar? Well, in a moment of epic smart-arsery that might justify every derogatory comment made about hipsters in Brunswick East, the folks behind Dunning Kruger decided to reveal to the world their lack of bar-owning experience in the most highfalutin, obscure way possible. You'd have to Google it to get it and even then true sufferers of the D-K effect probably wouldn't get the joke.

So far, so pretentious.

Mills' elegant Vieux Carre cocktail.
Mills' elegant Vieux Carre cocktail. Photo: Justin McManus

But what is probably most annoying about the name is that it doesn't reflect what's happening inside the joint. This crew might modestly, jokingly confess to illusory superiority but the quality of the drinks being made here, the beers being poured and the wines on offer demonstrate solid knowledge and imagination surprising in a place so doggedly low-key.

The room itself is like a teenager trying a small sartorial rebellion. There's a nicotine stain-yellow pressed metal ceiling untidily strung with lights on cords. The brick walls are painted white, there's a black terrazzo floor, some small, sullen hanging plants and three cramped little tables bolted to the wall. The stools at the bar are comfortable, as is the padded bench seating in the front windows. It's kind of anti-fashion, the sort of place that reveals its charms once you get used to it.

Drink cocktails here. Bartender and co-owner Gene Mills has a gift for balance and refinement, as proved by a very fine and meticulously chilled martini. For those who like to customise, there are about 14 gins to experiment with and the prices are fair.

Apricot and cinnamon pie at Dunning Kruger.
Apricot and cinnamon pie at Dunning Kruger. Photo: Justin McManus

There are off-the-wall original concoctions that include shiitake, kombu and miso-washed bourbon or avocado and corn chip-washed tequila in the mix but the DK version of Vieux Carre, the heady New Orleans-born cocktail, brings the warming velvety kick of rye, cognac, sweet vermouth, bitters and lemon juice in a wholly elegant way.

It pairs beautifully with the American-style cherry pie that's sitting on the counter. There's a different fruit pie – sometimes even two (including a vegan version, savvy in the neighbourhood) – every day and they're worth a visit on their own. There's pretty good cheese, too, plus grilled cheese and tomato on toast, pretzels and olives.

The beer, including the four they have on tap, leans local with names like Moon Dog, Two Birds, Sailors Grave and La Sirene filling out the short, sharp list. The wine list keeps it mostly local, too, apart from an occasional foray across the border into South Australia for fashionable young producers like Some Young Punks or Alpha Box and Dice.

Dunning Kruger is a bar that hides its smarts. Don't be fooled – they know what they're doing.

Martini-meter: West Winds Sabre gin, Dolin Dry vermouth, olives $18.
Deftly made, well-chilled, proper glass and a gold star for olive quality.
Score:Four (out of five)

Go-to Dish: American-style sweet fruit pies, made daily. If the cherry pie's on, get over yourself and order a slice.

https://www.dunningkrugerbar.com/