Australians are drinking less booze, it's true. According to recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the nation's average rate of alcohol consumption is at its lowest since 1961.
Back then, Resch's was the highest-selling bottled beer, women weren't allowed in public bars and the Tommy's Margarita was still three decades away from invention. Drab times indeed.
Why is Australia drinking at a rate not seen since Dinner Ale was a thing? That's a three pipe question, Watson. Certainly there's greater appreciation for quality booze over quantity, in line with the popularity of gourmet food culture. The rise of healthy lifestyle choices and the "wellness" movement may have had an impact, too.
Experts on such matters also point to a cultural trend where young people are choosing to visit restaurants to socialise, rather than hit the pub and sink beer like it's Powerade.
The result is a line between bar and restaurant that's fuzzier than ever before. Smart operators know that niche venues are risky business – a safer bet is the multi-purpose establishment, offering cocktails, dessert and everything in between.
Sure, it's possible to run a successful bar where cocktails are the focus, but such places are becoming a rare breed. In our national Top 20 Bars for 2019, 14 entries provide brilliant food and at least nine also work as a restaurant.
And yes, there are a lot of natural-wine-loving venues on the list, but, for now at least, the bars championing minimal-intervention drops also seem to have the most delicious snacks and a level of service beyond "how's your day been?".
Maybe bars pouring Wynns and Wolf Blass will be Where It's At again in five years' time, who's to say? (Admittedly, that's an unlikely scenario – we're far from peak natural wine – but more classic labels next to natural wines on lists would be wonderful to see.)
Anyway, cin-cin and all that. Please enjoy Australia's top 20 bars. These are the gin joints, watering holes and wine bars most loved by the Good Food team over the past 12 months. Some are old, some are new. All of them nail service, drinks, vibe and decor while making the nation's bar scene more electric and rich.
Australian Capital Territory
Bar Rochford, Canberra CBD
TOP FIVE FINALIST
Wine, beer and cocktails are afforded equal and thoughtful consideration at Nick Smith's slick boozer, which provides produce-driven dishes, bottle-green booths and choice vinyl on the turntable (You Am I, Grace Jones or Motown, perhaps). A graduate of the former three-hatted Sepia restaurant, Josh Lundy leads Rocco's modern kitchen, with gruyere gougeres for snacking and confit duck sharpened by cumquat for lush sessions with Sicilian wine. Capital City here we come.
We also love: Molly, Canberra CBD; Bacaro, Braddon.
New South Wales
The Baxter Inn, Sydney CBD
A much-loved subterranean whisky nirvana featuring more than 800 single malts, blends and ryes. Eye-watering whisky collections have become A Thing around the country, but few places also boast expert staff able to shake a daiquiri while explaining the complexities of Port Ellen cask strength versus Sullivan's Cove. It's easy to have a swell time here if spirits aren't your thing, too – beer and hijinks are plentiful.
Bulletin Place, Circular Quay
TOP FIVE FINALIST
Almost seven years after it opened, Bulletin Place remains more vital and magical than ever. The charming bolthole pumps at weekends when head bar bloke Evan Stroeve does lovely things with seasonal fruit and Paige Aubort sets a gold standard for service. Most of all we enjoy the new Meet the Grower menu, celebrating a different local citrus producer each month. (More of this in bars everywhere, please. Fewer house variations on the negroni.)
Cantina OK!, Sydney CBD
We're pretty sure this is the only bar in Australia pouring mezcal fermented with a wild coyote carcass. Cantina co-owners Alex Dowd and Jeremy Blackmore (also behind Tio's Cerveceria) and general manager Alex "Happy" Gilmour spent a year touring Mexico's dusty, crazy agave country to bring tequila rarer than chooks' teeth to this shipping-container-sized laneway bar. Full marks for innovation, can-do attitude and zippy cocktails. No tables, no chairs, no worries!
Continental Deli, Newtown
Although Continental's CBD offshoot is objectively excellent (all hail the french-dip sandwich), there's a cornerstore charm to the original which invites regular visits for tinned fish and canned martinis. The neo-trad deli is in its element on sunny afternoons, when you can grab an outdoor chair on leafy Australia Street, say hello to passing dogs and put your feet up with culatello and manager Michael Nicolian's smooth chat.
Squish burger at Scout. Photo: Supplied
Scout, Surry Hills
Whirrrrr, thwip, fizzzz. The top level of Maurice Terzini's Dolphin Hotel is a now a sexy science centre where Scout leader Matt Whiley and bar manager Josh Reynolds serve innovative drinks full of fruit-forward flavour. House-made banana wine fermented with macadamia and wattleseed, say, or calvados and cinnamon myrtle combined with burrata whey rescued from The Dolphin kitchen. Now with a bonus pizza list and "squish" burger, huzzah.
We also love: Double Deuce Lounge, Sydney CBD; Earl's Juke Joint, Newtown; Love, Tilly Devine, Darlinghurst; Maybe Sammy, The Rocks; Monopole, Potts Point; Supernatural Cellars, Byron Bay; The Unicorn, Paddington.
Inside Brisbane's high-celinged bar The Gresham.
The Gresham, Brisbane CBD
With a high-ceilinged heritage room covered in photographs of XXXX-drenched Brisbane in its heyday, the Gresh is a Queensland state treasure. Visit any given Friday and you can find students knocking back Rodenbach tins, office workers sniffing Michter's rye (there's a lot of whisky here) and maybe a hens' night on its third round of martinis. A national landmark with one of Australia's best bar teams.
Honto, Fortitude Valley
Lobster katsu sandos and cult Italian orange wine? You had us at hello and "would you like a glass of Radikon?", Honto. The crew behind pan-Asian street-food house Longtime opened this black-on-binchotan bar and restaurant in a Valley back alley last year and the James Street clique can't get enough. Sustainable wine shares a carte with rare whisky and sake, while Kill Bill-referencing cocktails bring the ruckus. Check out Bud's Margarita featuring silver tequila, shiso, lime juice and matcha.
We also love: 1889 Enoteca, Woolloongabba; Death and Taxes, Brisbane CBD; Maker, South Brisbane.
Clever Little Tailor, Adelaide CBD
Classy place, this. Exposed bluestone walls meet nutmeg-brown leather banquettes and finely tuned cocktails rest on marble and timber. It's a bar that encourages civilised imbibing, which might take the form of a mandarin highball spiked with fino sherry or late-night vieux carre and Ortiz mission. Clever Little Tailor (pictured right) inspired a new breed of savvy Peel Street bars when it opened in 2013 and nearby sister venue Pink Moon Saloon is also worth visiting for gin cocktails and local goat's cheese.
Lost in a Forest, Uraidla
Taras Ochota makes bloody lovely grape juice and there's nowhere better to experience it than at the legend's own wine lounge, a converted Adelaide Hills church slinging grenache, wood-fired pizzas and killer margaritas. A record player spins anything from David Bowie to Minor Threat, the West End Draught is ice cold, and blankets are on hand if you fancy a relaxed innings on the lawn. The most fun you can have getting lost.
We also love: Hellbound Wine Bar, Adelaide CBD; La Buvette Drinkery, Adelaide CBD.
Lucinda, Hobart CBD
Kobi Ruzika's original plan for his small, slick, set-menu restaurant, Dier Makr, was to build on the dining room out back. Instead he's expanded forward, adding this casual wine bar, where it's all about prog-rock wines drunk around the big communal table along with deliciously potent Welsh rarebit.
Sonny, Hobart CBD
TOP FIVE FINALIST
Love the crisp Italian moves of Templo but couldn't land one of its 20-odd seats? Order the same fresh wines and fun vibes at the team's equally tight wine bar. Six menu items do a big job: prosciutto loaded on herb-oil-slathered toasts, fried bread with wallaby crudo shrouded in a pecorino blizzard, and salty cacio e pepe. It all makes ordering another bottle of Tassie pinot a must.
We also love: Evolve Spirits Bar, Hobart; Tom McHugo's, Hobart; Willing Brothers, North Hobart.
Angel Music Bar, Melbourne CBD
Con Christopoulos has always set a scene. The European and City Wine Shop bring old-world elegance while Supper Club and Siglo are legendary keepers of the late-night flame. Now, Angel Music Bar brings the noise – literally. A brilliant, expensive sound system, constantly changing roster of DJs and music genres, open-air courtyard at the back and hidden Dance Bar upstairs collide with well-constructed cocktails and high-low bar food such as lobster mac-and-cheese or anything from the all-night Butcher's Diner next door. Woof.
Bar Margaux brings New York supper club vibes to a CBD basement. Photo: Chris Hopkins
Bar Margaux, Melbourne CBD
TOP FIVE FINALIST
Hold onto your bootstraps for the latest from Michael and Zara Madrusan, the bar tsars behind the Everleigh and Heartbreaker. Glistening subterranean Margaux is either a sophisticated late-night party bar, or a restaurant with loose morals. You decide. Three-sip martinis drop at the table frosty, followed by, what? Krug and oysters? Sparkling pet nats and Lyonnaise salad? Duck frites or a flouncy raspberry souffle? It's all possible, right up until 5am.
Di Stasio Citta, Melbourne CBD
Technically it's a restaurant, but this city-based barolo-slinging, spaghetti-twirling offshoot of Ronnie Di Stasio and Mallory Wall's St Kilda stalwart covers ground that goes far beyond eatery, and even bar. This is the definition of an engine-primer. Take your seat at the cool, stately marble bar, where video projections get your blood up, and summon a filthy martini (with the neatest nest of olives on ice) and potent deep-fried anchovies, cocooned in sage for extra vim. Sweet excess as its best.
Gerald's Bar, Carlton North
Wine bars come and wine bars go, but lacy-curtained Gerald's has proved tricky to oust from its ruling roost. Old-school service means solo drinkers are introduced and your drink can be ordered with just a look. Vinyl and memorabilia provide constant stimuli. There's zero faff – there is, instead, charcuterie, dark bread, maybe a proper lamb chop, and a global wine list defined by fastidious winemaking. Owner Gerald Diffey isn't against earthy practices but he doesn't stock "science experiments".
The Seddon Sling Cocktail at speakeasy-style bar Lay Low. Photo: Josh Robenstone
Lay Low Bar, Seddon
The room is hidden, the food is high-quality gyros from the friendly neighbours next door, and the cocktails are innovative deep-dives into sustainable skin-to-pulp practices and low-booze offerings. Lay Low sweats the delicious details big and small, landing firmly on the side of supporting local liquor-makers, so your vermouths are special-batch Maidenii, and your curacao isn't blue, but a punchy orange liqueur from Marionette. This is drinking on the cutting edge minus any insufferable smugness. Magic.
Bar Liberte, Albany
Since taking over the historic London Hotel kitchen five years ago, Amy Hamilton's cooking has become a magnet for food tourists in a port town better known for its heritage walks. Albany rock oysters and bracing cocktails are essential in the front bar (pictured), before settling into a Belle Epoque-channelling dining room for dishes combining the punchiest flavours of France, Vietnam and modern Australia. A nifty drinks list champions Great Southern producers – Brave New Wine and Wilson's pale ale, ahoy.
Madalena's Bar, Fremantle
TOP FIVE FINALIST
A sustainable seafood bar and so much more. Inspired by the botecos of Sao Paulo, husband-and-wife team Joel Rees and Danielle Christina de Almeida opened Madalena's in sleepy South Freo in January. Andrew McConnell alumnus (and brother of Joel) Adam Rees treats West Australian seafood with smarts and class – whole Esperance-caught nannygai is enhanced with camomile butter, while razorback prawns are fashioned into crudo. Post lemon tart, there's plenty of well-chosen, minimal-intervention juice to crack open while live Brazilian jazz welcomes the sunset.
Wines of While, Northbridge
A 29-year-old assistant surgeon opening Perth's first natural wine bar may not have been the most foolproof recipe for success on paper, but one year later Dr Sam Winfield's intimate boozer and bottle shop is jumping. A handsome, white-walled room is routinely chockers with young locals guzzling organic grapey things from the Savoie, Swartland and Alsace. Solo drinkers are well served with Si Vintners by the glass, Noble Rot mag on the bookshelf, and Perth's most comforting sourdough and pork terrine combination. Just what the doctor ordered.
We also love: Lalla Rookh, Perth CBD; Petition Beer Corner, Perth CBD.
Good Food Guide Bar of the Year finalists
The Good Food Guide 2020 Bar of the Year will be announced September 30 at the Good Food Guide Awards in Brisbane.
The finalists are:
Bar Margaux, Melbourne
Bar Rochford, Canberra
Bulletin Place, Sydney
Madalena's Bar, Fremantle
The Good Food Guide 2020 is now available to pre-order at thestore.com.au/gfg20, $29.99 with free shipping.