There was a time when the term "Melbourne-style bar" meant something quite specific. You know the drill: city laneway, minimal signage, creative fitout driven by non-existent budget. But our home-grown bar scene has been around for a couple of decades now, colonising the city with a head-spinning variety and so the term feels like it's ready for retirement. Or refreshment.
There are still common threads though.
Melbourne's best bars have a genuine, heartfelt commitment to quality – in booze, in knowledge, in service, in skills – that's apparent whether you're tying one on, bathed in neon and a raucous soundtrack in places like the Beaufort and Heartbreaker, downing an exquisitely made martini from beautiful, correct stemware at the Everleigh or Romeo Lane, or marvelling at precise thoughtful wine or whisky lists at the likes of Smalls or the Whiskey Room. We take bars seriously in this town.
Add the fact that Victoria's liquor licensing honchos seem to have decided that we've proved ourselves mature enough to handle a few more small late night joints and loosened the reins a little and you could feel hopeful that we're entering the Next Wave.
Check out the small flurry of late night supper clubs that are upping Melbourne's late night credentials. Arlechin and the soon-to-open the Mayfair come equipped not just with expertly assembled booze lists but also fully equipped kitchens that make them as much about eating as drinking. It all feels so terribly civilised, grown up and timely.
Then there are the wine bars that are popping up at all points. Based on the original bar/bottleshop models as pioneered by the City Wine Shop and Gertrude Street Enoteca, these small shopfront places with their communal tables and meticulously stacked shelves, are like the new pubs given an equal opportunity makeover.
It's easy to take Melbourne's bar scene for granted, so seamlessly has it slipped into the city's fabric. But pay attention. Those driving our bar culture are dedicated to us having a good time, drinking something new and interesting, paying attention to our rum or whisky or wine. And that's Melbourne-style.
Prime or end your night at bartender Hayden Lambert's house of earnest drink worship. The 12-seat charcoal and glowing mesh bar is mostly built for booze nerds, happy to sit around the intimate 360-degree central bar and watch as Lambert crafts manhattans and citrusy originals over branded ice.
Level 1, 306 Smith Street, Collingwood
Welcome to the Grossi family's new alleyway bar: the party you never knew you were missing that's now here to tempt you until 3am every night. It's a domed temple of Italo-Australian wines, bracing cocktails and things you can-and-want-to eat with one hand after midnight, from bolognese jaffles to quail, crisp and cinnamon-crumbed.
Mornane Place, Melbourne, 03 9662 2412
Narrowly sidestepping cliche, compact Bar Americano mixes obscure laneway location, leaning-room-only Europhile good looks and a tight list of craft booze, classic cocktails and quality snacks in a small-is-beautiful way. Expect to queue.
20 Presgrave Place, Melbourne
Bar Di Stasio
An art installation ode to Venice populated by smooth white-jacketed waiters, Callum Morton sculpture, drinks served with a flourish in gorgeous glassware across a high marble bar, and some of Melbourne's best bar food (we're looking at you, after school sandwich).
31 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, 03 9525 3999
The Black Pearl
Long live the Pearl. This Brunswick Street cocktail bar has produced the country's best bartenders and Melbourne's greatest memory lapses. Its cocktail list wins awards, but you come as much for the banter (and the fact it's reliably open until 3am) from a veteran crew as for a perfect manhattan.
304 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 03 9417 0455
For those who like their watering holes dark and handsome, their whisky and beer lists geek-level comprehensive, their diet heavy on cheese and charcuterie, and who get a frisson from cluey, borderline condescending bartenders, Boilermaker has your back.
209–211 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, 0424 270 082
Eau De Vie
They've got smoke and liquid nitrogen and they're not afraid to use 'em. But EDV also does classic cocktails, obscure booze, a head-spinningly thorough whiskey collection and pulls off the lowlit, speakeasy decor thing in a way that's more theme than theme park.
1 Malthouse Lane, Melbourne, 0412 825 441
Have you drunk Belgian whisky? You will here. Meet the hyper-specific, dark-and-woody whisky bar run by Whisky and Alement alum where it's all about independent bottlings from Japan, Taiwan and Sweden (really) that you won't find anywhere else in Melbourne.
113 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, 03 9417 7441
The revamped Everleigh in Fitzroy. Photo: James Morgan
If you loved Michael Madrusan's golden era cocktail bar for Melbourne's most precise brandy crustas and gin fizzes, love it doubly now. Its candlelit booths and minimal bar seats never screamed "knees up", but a renovation has added 24 seats to the bar area and a lot more vibe.
Level 1, 150–156 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy, 03 9416 2229
Heartbreaker has torn up the scene since it opened with its hard-rocking jukebox, and its equal dedication to good drinks (American/Aussie craft beers and bottled cocktails from the Everleigh), and dinge toilets (authentically sleazy!). And now, there's New York-style pizza, too.
234A Russell Street, Melbourne, 03 9041 0856
The cocktail bar above Neptune might love '70s disco, mirror balls and tropical-themed foil wallpaper but that doesn't mean it's not serious about its alcohol. Cocktails here are intricate, well constructed, well balanced and surprisingly grown up.
Level 1, 212 High Street, Prahran, 9533 2827
Juliet bar in Melbourne CBD. Photo: Kim Jane
Punch Lane has a new sister bar in the basement taking the sisterhood seriously. Roughly 80 per cent of the wine list is dedicated to Australia's best female winemakers. Don't care? There's an open fire, solid cocktail game and they're serving raclette, king of melted cheese drinking snacks.
37–41 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne, 03 9639 4944
The fireplace-sporting front bar of the old North Fitzroy Star is now the spot to score the best cocktails in the 'hood and to witness what's hot in the craft draught world via 20 ever-changing beer taps. All this and American barbecue, too.
32 St Georges Road South, Fitzroy North, 03 9972 1815
The bar at philosophical South Melbourne fine diner is where bartender Orlando Marzo, pinched from Dinner by Heston, gets just as experimental as the kitchen. Swing into the peachy room for his herb-infused cachaca doing an amazing impression of pastis and a few dishes a la carte.
226 Coventry Street, South Melbourne, 03 9690 0185
From the team behind Jungle Boy comes a kinda Cuban/Caribbean bar in the old Bar Economico site. It's an explosion of palms, stuffed parrots and tropical drinks in the 'party' canon (rummed up fog cutters; pina coladas made with salted caramel ice-cream) alongside fried pickles, cubanos, and Cuban cigars.
438 Church Street, Richmond, 03 9078 1407
It's all in the details here, from tiny cut crystal bowls for your (superbly made) martini's olive pits to table service with a mindreader's knack for suggesting what to drink next and a soundtrack that drops Tom Waits with exquisite timing.
1A Crossley Street, Melbourne, 03 9639 8095
How this massive warehouse space, with its lab-like microbrewery behind glass, central fireplaces, open kitchen and 20-plus beers on tap, manages to feel intimate and friendly is kind of miraculous, wholly attractive and worth toasting with a Mixed Six beer flight.
100 Gipps Street, Collingwood, 03 9415 1944
The Alps hit Prahran's Moet-loving party zone last year like a wine evangelist, spreading the good word about unsung producers and wild wines from the world over. It's a message delivered from a small, sleek pulpit lined with bare brick and wooden racks of bottles to-go.
64 Commercial Road, Prahran, 03 9529 4988
The hip hop is '90s, the glassware etched and the good times plentiful at this Chinatown bar, where a portrait of Bill Murray oversees the slinging of craft beers, small batch spirits and freshly juiced cocktails. It's half-indoors, half-outdoors, half-date place, half-pick up joint. Get in, get down.
13 Heffernan Lane, Melbourne, 0450 186 466
Melbourne Whisky Room
Unlike other whisky bars around town (including downstairs sibling Whisky & Alement), this one is less about volume and more about experience – rare, vintage, independent stuff to quaff to the sounds of a five-stacker vintage "stereogram".
Upstairs, 270 Russell Street, Melbourne, 03 9654 1284
The Good Food Guide goes national this year with hats awarded across Australia. The Good Food Guide 2018 will be launched in October with our presenting partners Citi and Vittoria and will be on sale in newsagents and bookstores.