It was a busy year for Brisbane’s bar scene. The city landed another stack of brewpubs but also welcomed some brilliant cocktail hideaways, a suburban hangout or two, and a sophisticated open-air grazer designed for Queensland summer afternoons. Here’s the best of 2019.

Alba Bar and Deli
Old-world San Sebastian but in New York in early ‘90s – that was Jamie Fleming’s concept for Alba Bar and Deli when it opened on Burnett Lane in April. The space itself, in an old brick storage space, is handsome if pretty straightforward: timber banquettes, dark-green subways tiles and crisp white walls. Really, though, you’re here for the food and drink. Fleming, a former Masterchef contestant, also has history working in cocktail bars in Brisbane and Sydney, and he’s attempted to distil the best of them into Alba. The cocktails are of course first class but almost play a supporting role to a wine list that tips its hat towards Spanish varieties such as cava, verdejo and mataro – the better to complement the pintxos style of eating. On the menu there’s plenty of seafood, such as Movida sardines and mussels, with the kitchen also preparing croquettes, scallops, beetroot risotto and pork empanadas. The full menu is available 3pm until close. Before that there’s a rotating daily sandwich built on house-made sourdough.

City Winery
A winery in the middle of town might sound like a lark, but City Winery means serious business. Just the third urban winery in Australia after Sydney’s Urban Winery and Melbourne’s Noisy Ritual, in March it moved into Campos Coffee’s old digs on Wandoo Street. Owners Dave Cush and Adam Penberthy have completely rearranged the old warehouse into a working winery and cellar door. The front area is expansive with high ceilings, concrete floors, and brick and VJ-board walls. On one side is a crisply tiled bar; opposite is a stack of French and American oak barrels, all of which house various vintages. At the back of the venue is City Winery’s secret weapon: a 70-seat restaurant where chef Travis Crane uses an ironbark-fuelled open fire to prep dishes such as coal-roasted carrot with date ricotta and cured pork, and organic Mallow sheep served with sheep strudel, smoked beetroot and green onion yoghurt. The wines include fiano, chardonnay, pinot gris and grenache, with 2019 seeing the debut of a nero d'avola, a grenache-sangiovese rosé and a riesling pet nat. Otherwise, City Winery hosts tours, winemaker meets and wine-blending workshops.

Hello Gorgeous
Seasoned bar operator Justinn De Beer opened Hello Gorgeous in February in the old Chester Street Bakery. In charge of the design was his stylist partner, Bea Berry, who created a venue rich in pink, teal and electric blue, with brass detailing and corrugated white walls. This is a place to take your time, starting in the afternoon on a terrific front deck with champagne and spritzers, before the night-time crowd then pushes things more into cocktail territory. De Beer is also a big believer in low-alcohol booze, Hello Gorgeous’s menu peddling plenty of vermouths and distilled non-alcoholic Seedlip spirits. Food leans towards share plates of seafood – expect dishes such as hot smoked-salmon cannelloni, barbequed Fremantle octopus and coconut-crusted drunken prawns.

Death and Taxes
Death and Taxes comes from Martin Lange, Blake Ward, Sam Tripet – who between them are known for their work at Sling, Cobbler, Savile Row and Finney Isles – and Wiebke Lange (Martin’s wife). This Burnett Lane hideaway takes its inspiration from the underground bars of London and Paris. The interior is split in two, a tiled front area with high ceilings and a handsome, high-set bar transitioning to a timber-lined heritage-listed back area with sumptuous leather booths and 100-year-old floors. More than 600 spirit bottles line a four-metre-tall back bar and fuel a 30-drink-strong cocktail list. There are also 40 bottles of wine, including a bunch of dessert vinos. There’s no kitchen, but BYO food from nearby eateries is welcomed.

Sea Legs Brewing
Sea Legs Brewing actually came to life in the dying days of December but missed our 2018 round-up. The opening of this unfussy brewpub with its handsome breeze-blocked frontage capped off a three-year labour of love for co-owners Jon Fuchs, Tim Wyatt, Harvey McKibbon, Dave Machin and Chris Davies, the gents taking over Sea Legs’ old boxing gym digs back in 2016 before getting waylaid by council approvals and various other obstacles. Sea Legs is now pouring a core range of five beers brewed on-site – a tropical lager, golden ale, an IPA, a milk stout and a pale ale – with the remaining taps occupied by special release and guest drops. The food menu features straight-ahead pub grub including hand-stretched pizzas, burgers, wings and charcuterie boards.

Soapbox Beer
Another later-than-late 2018 opening, Soapbox had the distinction of being Fortitude Valley’s first brewpub. A passion project for owners and friends Scott Robertson and Luke Nixon, the pair completely gutted an old dance studio and rebuilt it into an industrial-style brewery where they pour beers based on old home-brew recipes. There are currently eight beers on tap including five core brews (a kolsch, an IPA and a pale ale are all present and correct) and a few rotating styles, such as a porter and a popular biscuit ale. The food menu offers share plates and mains, many of which feature beer. There’s spicy chicken karaage, a 250-gram Wagyu rump with beer onion gravy, and beer-brined grilled wings. Soapbox introduced cans mid-year for those who want to grab-and-go.

The Woods
The Valley lost a much-loved craft beer institution when The Mill on Constance closed in June. But owners Gillian Letham and Gerard Hartnett almost immediately moved on to a new project, opening The Woods in a former pet store on Mitchelton’s Blackwood Street. These two have form with the suburban boozer; their other venue in Bulimba, The Oxford Tap House, is a standout on a busy Oxford Street. The Woods follows The Ox’s lead with six beer taps that continually rotate through both local and international brews – you might find East Brisbane’s Semi Pro getting poured next to Garage Project from New Zealand. There are another 60 or so beers sold by the bottle and can, plus an interesting selection of wine and gin. For food, there’s braised lamb shanks, crispy pork belly and rib fillet alongside bar snacks such as popcorn chicken and fish cakes.

Bender’s Bar
Really more a home for star chef Ben O’Donoghue’s prized Billykart West End cheeseburger, Bender’s nevertheless fills a much needed space north of Melbourne Street for a welcoming neighbourhood boozer. Moving into the old Copperface Jack’s, the fit-out is much the same but for a refreshing coat of white paint and the Bender’s neon signage. For drinks, there are 10 tap beers and ciders, a punchy wine list and a clutch of spirits. And that’s about it because, really, you’re here for the burgs: there are five available next to a short menu of sides. Beyond the cheeseburger built from brisket, rump and dry-aged chuck steak, there’s a chicken “sando” with bacon and ranch dressing, a fish burger built on crumbed flathead, and a vegan number with a spiced cauliflower steak and nut aioli.

Brewdog Dogtap
More a commercial facility designed to establish a foothold in the Australian beer market than a simple brewpub, Scottish craft giant Brewdog’s Dogtap taproom still impresses with a handsome fit-out and killer views over the river towards the Gateway Bridge. On tap there are 28 beers including the brewer’s core Punk IPA, Dead Pony Club pale ale, Zombie Cake chocolate porter and Boss Lager, backed by its Hazy Jane New England IPA and Elvis Juice grapefruit IPA, and then a stack of rotationals that change almost daily. The beers are backed by an extensive food menu that ranges from Korean-style chicken wings and burgers right through to barramundi fritters and an 800-gram tomahawk steak. There’s also a generous plant-based section that includes burgers built from seitan and Beyond Meat proteins. Visit before Christmas to get a taste of beer brewed at Brewdog Scotland and cold-chain shipped to Brisbane, but the facility’s own 25-hectolitre brewery should be up and running by the new year.

Stone & Wood Brisbane
Stone & Wood’s long awaited eight-hectolitre Brisbane brewpub finally arrived in early November, setting up shop in the heritage-listed Trails Ltd Ice & Cold Stores in the Valley. The venue has an impressive 24 taps pouring the core range of beers, such as the ever-popular Pacific Ale, as well as a number of limited releases brewed on-site. There’s also a cider on tap as well as a number of wines from Adelaide Hills producer Unico Zelo and its co-op spin-off Harvest Wines. The 150-seat industrial fit-out complements existing features of the old building such as exposed brickwork, steel and timber beams. It also has an on-site canteen that hosts local food businesses, the plan being to rotate operators every few months – for the rest of 2019, Mr Bunz will serve freshly shucked oysters, crispy pork-belly baos and popcorn chicken.

Honourable Mentions

Miss Demeanour
The Brew crew breathes new life into the old Sonny’s House of Blues space in the CBD.

Winghaus by Bavarian
Rockpool Dining Group opens an elevated sports bar in the middle of the city.

The Matriarch
A one-of-a-kind bar, restaurant and cafe opens in the old Tippler’s Tap space in Newstead.

Ivory Tusk
Woolly Mammoth transforms into a Palm Springs-inspired bar with a breezy Mexican-inspired food menu.

Shhh!
The Osbourne gets a speakeasy-inspired hideaway with a gin-focused back bar.