Dinner or drinks? Bars in restaurants used to be little more than glorified waiting rooms but now many of them are as inviting as the dining spaces beyond. Here are our favourites.
The Glass House
Yes, the restaurant at Hobart’s newest waterfront venue is great but life is mighty fine when you nab a seat at the stunning copper bar, too. This is a venue with five styles of ice, a collection of old and new crystal glasses and a “bottle keep” that sees your chosen whisky locked away for your next visit (and gives you priority bookings).
Brooke Street Pier, Hobart; theglass.house
All of the activity at the Westend Pumphouse centres around its large bar. Locals crowd in after 5pm on Fridays, ready for a cider, craft beer (try the Stark Raven oatmeal stout from Willie Simpson’s Seven Sheds) or something from the top shelf. With a drink in hand, peruse the menu and select dishes to enjoy at the bar or in the main dining space.
105 Murray Street, Hobart; ￼pumphouse.com.au
Bathed in the Lucas restaurant group’s trademark neon glow (here, it’s a plaintive sign reading “Lonely for you only”), the murky basement digs are packed with dark corners and broad booths where drinkers get down with cocktails that stick to the Thai theme (from a pineapple-infused tequila to a chilli-salt margarita).
125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne; gogobar.com.au
A 10-strong list of pisco cocktails made by dapper bartenders lets you go “classicos” (pisco sour with lemon, lime and eggwhite) or “el futuro” (try the pisco disco with chilli, coriander and ginger beer). Grab a spot at the bar and indulge in selections from the menu, which features a section dedicated to street food.
19 ACDC Lane, Melbourne; pastuso.com.au
Le Bon Ton
Absinthe is a thing here, although the bartenders will smooth the green fairy’s rougher edges in drinks such as Minnie the Moocher (with dry vermouth, lime and mint), plus there’s a brilliant cocktail list with New Orleans classics including the hurricane (rum, grenadine and citrus). Soak it all up with pit-smoked brisket and chilli-cheese fries. It’s nothing short of finger-lickin’ good.
￼51 Gipps Street, Collingwood; lebontonmelb.com.au
Hablas Español? It matters little. This lively Mexican cantina’s brand of eating and drinking translates to a good time in any language, especially if you’ve nabbed a stool at the bar. How else, after all, would you get first-hand tuition from chatty bartenders about El Público’s impressive mescal and tequila stocks and the snappy cocktails they shake, stir and serve through the night?
511 Beaufort Street, Highgate; elpublico.com.au
Rockpool Bar & Grill
If you’re partial to an apéritif, you’ve come to the right place. Nightcap? The options are pretty much endless. There’s no denying that Rockpool’s dedicated bar makes an ideal preface and/or footnote to a night out but it’s just as capable of being the main event. Sandwich aficionados will certainly approve of the bar’s new burger-centric menu, not least the introduction of a grass-fed beef option to complement Rockpool’s celebrated Blackmore Wagyu burger.
Crown Perth, Great Eastern Highway, Burswood; rockpool.com
New South Wales
Bentley Restaurant & Bar
Bentley has redefined contemporary dining in Australia. The flagship establishment of culinary crusader Brent Savage and wine wizard Nick Hildebrandt delivers sexy sophistication to the city and its bar is just as sharp. Cool your heels on classic cocktails, dine on the restaurant menu proper or quaff quirky drops as you enjoy one of the best bar menus in town.
Corner of Pitt and Hunter streets, Sydney; thebentley.com.au
Have a pre-dinner drink upstairs, where waitresses who look as though they’re straight out of the 1950s pirouette through a room of raucous revellers, and snack on house-made charcuterie and weekly specials like pickled octopus and chilli. It’s one of the best nights out Sydney has to offer.
358 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills; gardelsbar.com
Arrive in time for sunset and graze at the bar. Book a spot at the “Cured and Cultured” counter and indulge in a glass of Gosset rosé while watching chefs prepare poached yabbies with lemon jam, cultured cream and buckwheat pikelets. Or reserve a table in The Circle, a casual 30-seater in the upper level. It’s still early but Bennelong may be Gilmore’s defining moment.
Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney; bennelong.com.au
Segue from cocktails in copper mugs to a menu that features lobster rolls with crème fraîche, dry-aged kimchi burgers and a meltingly tender hunk of lamb shoulder to share. While there is a steak or two on the menu, the focus is South Australia’s seafood, with scampi crudo, freshly shucked oysters and king crab legs among the highlights.
Station Road, Adelaide; seanskitchen.com.au
The views into the gardens of Government House and across the river to Adelaide Oval are Instagram heaven and the tempting bar menu includes wood-fired pizza and toasties. If you duck inside for dinner, opt for the 16-hour slow-cooked pork Scotch fillet finished in the charcoal-fired Josper oven.
￼Level 8, 2 King William Street, Adelaide; 2kwbar.com.au
Australian Capital Territory
Monster Kitchen and Bar
Sip on a Languedoc picpoul de pinet and tuck into Sean McConnell’s famous yabby jaffles. A share plate of soft, silky eggplant with smoked goat’s curd, katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and sesame goes down beautifully with a local wine, such as the Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz.
25 Edinburgh Avenu, Canberra; hotel-hotel.com.au/eat-drink
Hip foodies huddle in at tables within a whisper of each other, while the friendly bar staff proudly show off the Victorian whisky, Tassie vodka and West Australian gin, or tempt you with wines made within an hour of the nation’s capital. “Local” is paramount here at A. Baker bar; even the bread is made in-house.
15 Edinburgh Avenue, Canberra; abaker.com.au
It’s a winning formula that has the punters flocking to Darwin’s waterfront strip: serve up oysters variously chilled and grilled, food for non-oyster fans, on-tap beer and cider, cocktails and wines (including lots of bubbles by the glass). There’s also live music and happy-hour specials a couple of times a week.
19 Kitchener Drive, Darwin; oysterbar.com.au
Claim a stool at the contemporary-chic concrete bar, order an apéritif and ogle the best selection of charcuterie the city has to offer, including jamón Ibérico (from acorn-fed black-hoofed pigs) and salami made from Australian wild boar. There are also fun snacks like the Sobrassada Dagwood Dog and baked clams with smoked potato velouté and chorizo.
13A, 23 James Street, Fortitude Valley; gerardsbar.com.au
Less a bar and more a clandestine supper club, The Servery is up a flight of narrow, hidden stairs adjacent to Pearl Café’s kitchen. The menu is always changing but on Wednesdays you can count on the slow-roasted organic Byron Bay Berkshire pork.
￼ Upstairs, 28 Logan Road, Woolloongabba