Pre-dinner drink or post-party nightcap? Natural wine or perfect martini? These diverse watering holes offer a drop for all occasions.
The minimalist Tokyo vibe – obscure location, 16 seats, curated booze collection, bartender-owned and operated – marks this as one for cocktail aficionados who prefer their posse small and their drinks refined. Precise versions of the classics rub shoulders with sometimes startling combinations (mezcal, verjus, banana).
Level 1, 306 Smith St (via Chopper Ln), Collingwood, aboveboardbar.com
This is the Prahran outpost of a stable of bar/bottle shop hybrids stretching from Surrey Hills to Collingwood. The family genes are evident in both decor and commitment to thoroughly interesting drinks. Beer on tap, good snackage and 400 wines round out the package.
64 Commercial Rd, Prahran, 03 9529 4988, thealpsprahran.com.au
This sleek spot is as smart with a snack (grilled sardines, anchovy toasts) as with a deftly made cocktail (the jalapeno and chipotle Bloody Mary is worth a dedicated visit). An enviable vinyl collection and tidy wine list that leans Old World make for an ideal extended hang out.
149 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, 0400 155 891, amarillofitzroy.com.au
Angel Music Bar
Don't come here with a "one drink and I'm out" kind of attitude; you'll only let yourself down. Instead, embrace the spare, cool fit-out; the late hours; the rotating and eclectic roster of DJs; the quality alcohol list; the tiny mirror ball; and excellent courtyard. Let your inner night owl soar.
12 Bourke St, Melbourne, angelmelbourne.com
Sandwiched between the train station and the river, Arbory could rest on its location alone. But this often-raucous beer garden cares about its food and drink – from notable burgers to tapped Aperol spritz and well-judged wine. Over summer, floating spinoff Arbory Afloat brings Turkish beach club vibes.
Flinders Wk, Melbourne, 03 9614 0023, arbory.com.au
The Grossi family's late-night den has Melbourne in its DNA: discreet laneway location, Six Degrees design (arched cork ceiling, illuminated stained glass), excellent cocktails and a snack carte with gems like bolognese jaffles and midnight spaghetti. But it also offers the feeling of being in an experienced pair of hands.
Mornane Pl, Melbourne, arlechin.com.au
Cheese-filled eclairs at Auterra. Photo: Supplied
Clinton McIver, owner-chef of fine diner Amaru, turns his attention to the bar snack. First and foremost this is a wine bar presenting Old and New World grape juice, but snacks such as crab doughnuts, smoked kangaroo tartare and barbecued octopus with bush tomato tend to steal the show.
1160 High St, Armadale, 03 8529 2660, auterrawinebar.com.au
A colourful stairwell entrance gives way to a more relaxed, good-time mood upstairs, where a bright young nuevo-Footscray crowd gathers to drink from a wine list that leans natural, cocktails (including frozen margaritas from a machine) and tap beer while feasting on charcuterie and sandwiches.
30 Chambers St, Footscray, babysnakes.com.au
This stayer still rocks the toasted sanga, with fillings from classic cheese to the fancier kangaroo and caraway bechamel. But it's also an early adopter of all-Aussie spirits, and the drinks menu represents the kind of national pride (seven pages of Australian gin!) we can all get behind.
141 Greeves St, Fitzroy, 03 9078 3866, badfrankie.com
Everything is just-so at Bar Americano. Photo: David Oastler
As much an art installation as it is a bar, this standing-room-only spot in a laneway off a laneway embraces the spirit of the bars of Europe. A classic cocktail-only zone, it is a thrillingly specific, timber-lined cabinet that whisks you off to another time and place.
20 Presgrave Pl, Melbourne, baramericano.com
Gurner Group spent $3 million turning this former Mini car dealership into a luxurious nook of sleek joinery and terrazzo flooring in upmarket Hawksburn Village. Glen Bagnara, of Hemingway's Wine Room, is overseeing a premium Italian, French and Australian wine list, with Euro-leaning snacks and shared plates.
508 Malvern Rd, Prahran, 03 9069 1954, barbianco.com.au
The spirit-loving, basement-dwelling sibling to upstairs craft beer-loving East of Everything is all moody lighting and couch clusters. The bar's secret weapon is its talented can-shakers, who put the impressively hefty booze collection to good use. Whisky is a highlight.
Basement, 72 Auburn Pde, Camberwell, 03 9882 4216, barnone.com.au
Beer-friendly fried chicken and wakame fries at Benchwarmer. Photo: Chris Hopkins
Like to mix a Swedish Imperial stout with a Footscray-brewed IPA? This bar gives you all that, on tap and in cans, to drink in or takeaway, accompanied by excellent izakaya food, including most parts of a chicken grilled on sticks. A casual but attentive vibe adds to the charm.
345 Victoria St, West Melbourne, 03 9329 5979, benchwarmerbar.com.au
Bijou Bottle Store
Want to know what Little Collins Street was missing? A sassy little bar and bottleshop owned by Gin Palace guy Ben Luzz. Bijou has all the staples of the classic Melbourne bar-bottleshop hybrid – iconic and rare gin, cheese and charcuterie, original cocktails – tied together with cluey service.
194 Little Collins St, Melbourne, bijoubottlestore.com
It's the bartender's equivalent of a Masonic handshake. For the uninitiated, this low-key, slightly shabby bolthole is easy to pass over. But those who know Pearl understand it's a place of gorgeous booze, skilled cocktail craftsmanship and well-deserved status on the international radar.
304 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, 0488 304 304, blackpearlbar.com.au
The new kid on the cocktail block is more of a laboratory than a classic cocktail speakeasy, where the menu lists ABV and pH levels, and the drinks, including ingredients such as Geraldton wax or Davidson plum, are artfully presented.
Level 2, 169 Bourke St, Melbourne, bouvardia.com.au
Luke Whearty from Byrdi. Photo: Joe Armao
After a classic cocktail? This is not the place. Looking for a drinking adventure, with ingredients that might include foraged fig leaves, lacto-fermented pineapple and Tasmanian wasabi? Byrdi, with its '70s sci-fi lab vibe, is just the ticket. Unlike anything else in the city and all the better for it.
211 LaTrobe St, Melbourne, byrdi.com.au
BOTTLESHOP AND BAR
Booze geeks will believe they've found nirvana here. Like a mullet, it's business at the front (a brilliant bottleshop) and party at the back (the excellent Back Bar catering to craft beer, mezcal, whisky and natty wine). Plus, negroni on tap and pizza from Moor's Head.
877 High St, Thornbury, 03 9484 1820, carwyncellars.com.au
City Wine Shop
It's hard to call yourself a Melburnian if you haven't imbibed streetside at the City Wine Shop. The bar-bottleshop hybrid with a continent-hopping list of excellent wine, great service, and Parliament House as a backdrop defines all the things the city does well.
159 Spring St, Melbourne, 03 9654 6657, citywineshop.net.au
Just a short stumble from Glen Iris railway station, this split-level taproom bar is a surprise and a revelation. Given the brewery setting, it's no shock that beer is the main agenda, with 28 taps almost providing a reason to ignore the excellent spirit, wine and food lists.
4 Paran Pl, Glen Iris, 1300 673 362, deedsbrewing.com.au
The Douglas Club
The bar at the new Hilton Little Queen hotel is housed in the 1930s-era Equity Chambers, with two rooms featuring clubby couches and glamorously low lighting. There are beverages other than cocktails, but why not avail yourself of a martini, Sazerac or a Death in the Afternoon?
472 Bourke St, Melbourne, 03 9116 8866, thedouglasclub.com.au
Eau de Vie
This city classic is legitimately classy, which comes down to the attention to detail, from the golden-hued speakeasy decor to the cocktail list that loves flash and theatre (smoke! flame!), but has the right skills and the ingredients to pull it off.
1 Malthouse Ln, Melbourne, 03 8393 9367, eaudevie.com.au
The Elysian Whisky Bar
Fans of the small, intensely focused whisky bars of Japan will have their boxes ticked at this compact bolthole. With about 350 choices from across the globe and two owner-tenders who can tell you all you need to know, it's one for novices and nerds alike.
113 Brunswick St, Fitzroy, 03 9417 7441, theelysianwhiskybar.com.au
It's easy to understand international acclaim for this bar. The cocktails, made by snappily dressed bartenders to a soundtrack of vintage jazz and blues, are impeccable in terms of both ingredients and structure, while the bartender's ability to divine what you want to drink borders on the spiritual.
Level 1, 150-156 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, 03 9416 2229, theeverleigh.com
A grown-up supper club where there's live jazz and good DJs, plush furnishings scattered across a warehouse shell, a tight food menu and boozy original cocktails, often with an herbal Aussie twist. A good time, whether you want to hunker down or tear it up.
216 High St, Windsor, 03 9521 5325, galah.melbourne
Part of the Johnston Street bar cluster, this place throws its 1970s suburbia-inspired hat into the ring with orange and yellow Laminex, venetian blind and wallpaper exuberance. Expect pies, sausage rolls and vanilla slices, Banana Cream daiquiris and an impressive range of beer in cans.
173 Johnston St, Collingwood, 03 9427 2013, gumbar.com.au
The younger, louder, messier sibling of The Everleigh, this is a red-neon-splashed ode to American dive bars. Given its pedigree, the quality of the booze you're washing down while singing along to the jukebox is enviable, from bottled cocktails to a meticulous list of bourbon and beer.
234A Russell St, Melbourne, 03 9041 0856, heartbreakerbar.com.au
Some visit just for the live shows – an eclectic grab bag that might include music, comedy, spoken word and drag, sometimes simultaneously – but there's plenty more on offer here. The sheltered, plant-filled courtyard is one of Melbourne's best, ideal for eating wings and fries, chased with boozy cocktails.
7-11 Dawson St, Brunswick, 03 9077 5572, h-w-l-r.com
Jamsheed Urban Winery. Photo: Supplied
You won't get much closer to the source than here, where Gary Mills makes superb single vineyard shiraz and aromatic whites from fruit sourced from across Victoria. The wine alone is worth the visit, but the atmospheric warehouse with upstairs lounge area and strong snack game sweeten the deal.
4 Albert St, Preston, 0409 713 456, jamsheed.com.au
Johnny's Green Room
Named after a seedy, now-defunct pool hall, King and Godfree's handsome rooftop bar is rather different to its namesake. For starters, it boasts one of the best views of Melbourne's skyline you can find. Further charms include spot-on food (pizzas, oysters) and a drinks list that leans Italian.
Level 2, 293-297 Lygon St, Carlton, 03 9347 1619, johnnysgreenroom.com
Any bar with a cocktail called Umami Issues is worthy of attention, particularly when the cocktail in question blends spiced rum, oloroso and worcestershire, Tabasco and soy sauces. This bar forges its own path, from the obscure, unsigned entrance to a cocktail program with minimal waste.
93 Buckley St (rear), Seddon, 0455 032 238, laylowbar.com.au
It's back! After closing in July, this beloved terrace bar has been revived by the crew from New Gold Mountain and Double Happiness. Expect the same kitsch garden party aesthetic, with jugs of strong cocktails and a snacky menu of cheese and charcuterie.
Level 3, 59 Bourke St, Melbourne, 03 9662 2775, madamebrussels.com
The Marquis of Lorne
It's easy for a pub to lose its original mojo when upping its food and drinks game, but the Marquis nails it. Over three levels (including a rooftop), it exudes old-school boozer vibes while serving excellent food, from premium potato cakes to confit duck.
411 George St, Fitzroy, 03 9417 5001, marquisoflorne.com.au
Compact's the word at Mono, with food and booze menus that give a nod to Japan. The flavours are big (fried chicken, duck meatball skewers, prawn katsu) while the single-page drinks list offers sake, minimal-intervention wine and cocktails including a high-fiveable pina colada.
191A Smith St (rear), Fitzroy (enter via Charles St), 0401 170 520, monoxo.com.au
The lagoon at Moon Dog World brewery in Preston. Photo: Justin McManus
Moon Dog World
This brewery has pushed boundaries since opening in a grungy Abbotsford backstreet more than a decade ago. Its second site is an enormous warehouse decked out with a lagoon, waterfall, pinball parlour, 72-tap bar and space for 700 souls, with good food (fish taco, vegan parma) and service.
32 Chifley Dr, Preston, 03 9428 2307, moondogbrewing.com.au
BOTTLESHOP AND BAR
This two-storey venue has a superb bottleshop with a knockout range of spirits downstairs – a mere drumroll to the upstairs bar, with its outdoor courtyard, 24 taps pouring wine, beer and cider and food options from well-sourced charcuterie to BYO from local food joints.
106 Nicholson St, Footscray, mrwest.com.au
Nick & Nora's
From the folks behind Eau de Vie and Boilermaker House, this glamorous bar is named for the crime-solving, alcohol-loving duo from Dashiell Hammett's novel The Thin Man. It's wall-to-wall art deco geometry and meticulously sourced alcohol, with three pages of champagne and cocktails to choose from.
11 Benson Wk, 80 Collins St, Melbourne, 03 8393 9367, nickandnoras.com.au
Those with a fondness for neighbourhood bars in America will feel at home here. There's an upstairs bandroom with an eclectic booking policy and a beer garden, but the downstairs streetfront bar is all mood lighting, great tunes and plain-speaking booze business. Bliss.
136 Johnston St, Collingwood, facebook.com/nighthawksbarcollingwood
Pair cocktails with oysters at Pearl Diver. Photo: Pete Dillon
The former Annam space has been sleekly revamped as a nautical-themed oyster bar, with banks of crushed ice loaded with fresh molluscs for slurping alongside a compelling range of drinks. Cocktails include the tiki-style Pearl Diver with buttered rum, Tasmanian honey and pink grapefruit, or a killer martini made with oyster shell gin.
56 Little Bourke St, Melbourne, 03 7006 5144, pearldiver.com.au
This bar under a pedestrian bridge in the middle of the Yarra gets many points for uniqueness of location, but the best news is you don't need to sacrifice your aesthetic standards, thanks to a recent makeover. There are spritzes, sours, solid wine and beer plus pizza and charcuterie.
Underneath Evan Walker Bridge, Southbank, ponyfishisland.com.au
Brunswick bar-restaurant Rascal. Photo: Simon Schluter
In the warm embrace of its exposed brick walls, Rascal inhabits its bottle-o, bar and diner personas with equal aplomb. Drink a good cocktail (try the Amaro spritz), glass of pet-nat (from a 120-strong list) or craft beer alongside finessed snacks such as seaweed tarama with salmon roe.
341 Sydney Rd, Brunswick, 03 9114 2817, rascalbrunswick.com
There's a precise, rigorous approach to the details at this subtle bar – the correct dilution, the proper receptacle, the best booze – which makes drinking here a must. A mainstay for any self-respecting cocktail aficionado.
1A Crossley Street, Melbourne, 0457 673 647, romeolane.com.au
An alluring, no-bookings newcomer from Emily Bitto (Heartattack & Vine), Hootan Heydari (Terror Twilight) and chef Sam Steck (Neighbourhood Wine) brings interesting booze, simple snacks and a warm vintage room to a strip that sorely needed a good local. The name isn't just fun to say, it's also INXS's third album.
59A Melville Rd, Brunswick West, 03 9917 2702, shaboohshoobah.com
Some complain of the difficulty in securing a table, but the pan-demographic love for this rooftop bar is exactly the point. With its Euro-style views, snappy table service and a dizzying selection of champagne, barrel-aged rum and Old World-leaning wine, there's something for everybody.
Level 2, 161 Spring St, Melbourne, 03 9654 6631, siglobar.com.au
This loved brewery now has outposts in Moorabbin and at Melbourne Airport but the vast Collingwood mothership remains its spiritual home. A gobsmacking variety of beer is served in a space made cosy with open fires and a food menu of steaks, burgers and fish and chips.
100 Gipps Street, Collingwood, 03 9415 1944, stompingground.beer
Tetto di Carolina
The team behind Il Bacaro, Marameo and Bar Carolina are experts in sophisticated spaces with a passion for great ingredients. Their upstairs bar follows the script, starting with a strong list of cocktails rounded out with live music, a terrace and food from snack to feast.
48 Toorak Rd, South Yarra, 03 9867 7954, tettodicarolina.com.au
Trouble In Dreams
Footscray bars are hot right now and this is the place to be. The bohemian room is overseen by bartender and cocktail book author Chad Parkhill, who knows what he's doing, both with the known (an excellent margarita) and unknown (the refreshing Healesville Swizzle).
297 Barkly St, Footscray, trouble-in-dreams.myshopify.com
The Victoria Hotel
Love the idea of a classic pub but hate the idea of substandard booze and a menu full of fried brown things? The Victoria is some kind of wonderland where you can watch the footy while downing Austrian riesling, participate in parma- and steak-nights, or have a Sunday roast, quality guaranteed.
43 Victoria St, Footscray, 03 8320 0315, victoriahotelfootscray.com
The Victoria Hotel's chicken parma. Photo: Eddie Jim
Vinoshis Beverage Shop
BOTTLESHOP AND BAR
The collection of wine at this single-fronted, timber-floored shopfront opened by a couple of winemakers is exciting, eclectic and geographically democratic. Expect a range of Spanish bubbles, Japanese whisky and biodynamic Aussie shiraz. They mix a good cocktail, too.
253 Lower Heidelberg Rd, Ivanhoe East, 0434 404 725, vinoshisbeverageshop.com
If a good bar caters to the needs and wants of locals, Waxflower is exemplary. A stylish melding of Japanese, European and Melbourne bar cultures, it's as fanatical about its coffee and wine as it is about the snack-heavy food and the tunes it plays through bespoke speakers.
153 Weston St, Brunswick, 0420 876 574, waxflowerbar.com.au
Whisky & Alement
Some may consider a list of around 1000 whiskies excessive, but this spot plays it cool and knowledgeable, so everyone has a good time. There's an excellent beer list and, of course, whisky-forward cocktails.
270 Russell Street, Melbourne, 03 9654 1284, whiskyandale.com.au
This article features in the Good Food Guide 2022 magazine, published on November 30 with presenting partners Citi and Vittoria Coffee, and free with The Age. Also on sale from December 7 in newsagents and supermarkets.