Brisbane’s bar scene perhaps hasn’t been quite as dynamic as its restaurants in the first half of 2022, but there’s still been plenty to write about.
The pandemic shook up drinking in this town, creating an ever-changing matrix of rules that left our bar owners experimenting with all sorts of different approaches. That’s still playing out in boozers around the city. Table service is in at some places but out at others, and punters have never had a greater appetite for different spirits, beers, wines and tipples, as well as new and unusual places in which to drink them.
Below you’ll find some of the more typical suspects – a couple of fine brewpubs and an eye-popping big-format spot in Newstead – but there’s also a cracking CBD whisky bar, a rejigged Bulimba spot and a one-of-a-kind (for Brisbane) rooftop beach club.
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And if you missed last week’s round-up of Brisbane’s best restaurant openings of 2022 (so far), here it is.
Frog’s Hollow Saloon, CBD
At first glance, Frog’s Hollow Saloon screams fancy boozer: the fit-out inside the old John Reid & Nephews facade on Charlotte Street (it originally fronted an ironworks, and most recently an antiques store) is timber-and-brick heritage, curated menus decorate the tables, and there’s a depth of talent running the place that would be the envy of many cocktail bars around the country. But that’s where the pomp ends. This is a venue that’s top-to-bottom approachable. You order at the bar, not in your seat; the music leans towards jukebox rock; and the enormous double-sash windows are left open, meaning it soaks up the hum of the city when it’s quiet. A crew of veterans from celebrated Australian venues such as The Gresham, Biànca, Mjølner, Black Pearl and Captain Melville are looking after a booze selection that features independent whiskies from around the world, including Australian distillers such as Starward, 5Nines, Spring Bay and Launceston Distillery. Australian producers also feature prominently on a 50-bottle-strong list of gins. All up, the backbar carries more than 350 bottles. A signature cocktail menu presents clever twists on the classics, there’s a short list of mainly Australian small-producer wines, and six beer taps pour Guinness, XXXX Gold and Moondog seltzer alongside a rotating trio of craft beers. For food, there’s a tight selection of old-school comfort eats prepped by the Alba Bar & Deli kitchen a few blocks over on Burnett Lane.
Lina Rooftop, South Brisbane
Lina is a rooftop bar and restaurant perched on top of the Mobo building in South Brisbane, intended to capture the spirit of beach and day clubs in places such as Ko Samui, St Tropez, Mykonos, Dubai and Las Vegas. It’s worth a mention simply for the wow factor: there’s a white, light and bright fit-out, standing room for 480 punters, a 30-metre infinity pool, and one-of-a-kind views of the CBD and the river. The pool area’s cabanas and sun beds are available for hire, and you can have food and drinks delivered to both. The food menu revolves around sliders, skewers, salads, and a raw bar that punches out oysters, steak tartare and salmon gravlax. The raw bar can also be ordered in the 128-seat restaurant, backed by a seafood-driven menu of larger dishes. There are eight beers and four spritzes on tap, a lengthy signature-cocktail selection, and a big range of agave spirits.
Melrose Cocktail Bar, Bulimba
In March Giorgina Venzin relaunched Melrose, her classy Bulimba Southeast Asian restaurant, as a two-in-one, with the right-hand side of the venue becoming Melrose Cocktail Bar (the restaurant is now just a 40-seater on the left, in front of the kitchen, with a menu fine-tuned for the more intimate set-up). The room looks much as it has since opening just over a year ago – high tables in a beach club-inspired room of timber and terracotta tiling, with plenty of greenery and a retractable ceiling – but now swerves harder into classic cocktails alongside signature takes such as the Eden (lemon myrtle-infused gin, elderflower liqueur, creme de mure, lemon and sour cranberry syrup) and the Tuk Tuk Fizz (tequila, Aperol, salted grapefruit tonic, lemon and whites), craft beers on tap, and a wine list that favours funky, Australian small-producer drops. The bigger change in the bar is the food, chef Arte Assavakavinvong letting his hair down via small plates of chargrilled corn, sticky pork skewers, Moreton Bay bug milk buns with tom yum mayo, popcorn chicken and grilled lamb ribs. Taken with the regular DJ and live music sets, the new set-up makes the venue more of a regular draw for Bulimba locals not wanting to stray into the CBD or Valley.
Parched, West End
Parched opened its doors in late December on Montague Road (too late to make our end of ’21 round-up), tucked behind an F45 studio. The large, airy three-storey building features a storage area for brewing gear on the ground level, the brewery, kitchen and bar on the second level, and an upstairs seating space. Owner Carl Hallion does a lot of the brewing himself, having started out with a Coopers brew-in-a-bag kit when he was 18 years old. After leaving the mining industry in 2018, he reignited his passion for brewing with a full-grain pilot kit. Now, he’s in charge of a brewery with an estimated yearly production of 200,000 litres. Parched runs 11 beers on tap, including the Mi Amigo Pagara Mexican lager, Snafu Dos XPA, Brave New World Hazy IPA, and the Because I’m Hoppy NEIPA. For food, there’s pineapple and rum-glazed tempura prawns, and salt and Szechuan pepper five-spice squid. There’s also seven pizzas, three burgers, and larger dishes such as 14-hour slow-cooked brisket with bourbon glaze, and nasi miso-crusted Japanese eggplant with soba noodles.
Stranded, Fortitude Valley
Vinyl DJs spinning old rock records. Pre-loved furniture. A backbar stocked with 50 bottles of hard-to-find tequila and mezcal. Artistic hangouts such as Max’s Kansas City in New York. A lot of influences and life experiences have been tapped to create Stranded, an entirely unique Fortitude Valley bar. The upstairs venue sits across Winn Lane from The Zoo and mirrors that space with its brick walls, timber floors and vaulted ceiling. Instead of a stage, though, there’s a long bar lined with diner-style leather stools. The rest of the heritage-listed space is populated by high bars, and booths and upcycled furniture from old restaurants. Beyond the mezcal and mezcal-driven signature cocktail list, drinks are a clutch of Mexican beers and other internationals backed by local craft brews, including a Stranded lager on tap that’s produced by Fonzie Abbott. For wines there’s a sparkling list that leans French, and a selection of whites, reds, rosés and pét-nats that lean Australian. For food, there’s burrata with baked cherry tomatoes, rocket and a five-year aged balsamic vinegar; schiaffoni (large tubular pasta) stuffed with ricotta and mozzarella served with tomato chutney; slow-cooked lamb ribs with mint yoghurt and pita; and 32-hour slow-cooked mezcal-infused beef cheeks.
Stratton Bar & Kitchen, Newstead
A new venue from Mrs Brown’s Tarryn and Ben Brown, Newstead’s Stratton Bar & Kitchen occupies a pair of WWII-era hangars on Stratton Street in Newstead. Inside, it’s a striking, capacious space with exposed hangar arches and a large skylight letting in plenty of natural light. The two renovated hangars were designed with three different spaces in mind. Enter via the bar – a sunlit glasshouse with a vine-laced steel tree centrepiece – or through the dining area, a large room anchored by a 30-seat table made from recycled timber. A substantial bar stretches about half the length of the venue to cater to those waiting for a table and handles the 35-strong cocktail list. The extensive share-focused food menu puts pizzas alongside char siu and curries. Nods to Mrs Brown’s popular prawn roll and Korean fried cauliflower come as a chicken karaage milk bun and sweet-and-sour broccoli, while the cheeseburger dumplings are destined to be crowd-pleasers.
Valley Hops Brewing, Fortitude Valley
Valley Hops opened late November but (like Parched) missed our end-of-2021 bars round-up. Located on a sixth-floor rooftop above Cloudland, right in the heart of the Valley, it’s an intricately designed 800-square-metre space of stone, stained glass, timber and brick, the defining feature a metal arbour with creeping vines. There’s also a distinctive outlook towards the CBD and the Story Bridge. Ex-Green Beacon brewer Josh Warren is overseeing a 15-hectolitre brewery and 200-litre pilot kit that’s feeding 36 beer taps. The core range includes a crisp mid-strength lager, a tropical ale, a pale ale, a sour, a West Coast-style IPA and a hazy IPA. It’s backed by seasonal and special release beers, and collaborations with other brewers such as Stone & Wood. For food, there’s woodfired pizza, lamb shoulder flatbreads, whole grilled king prawns, spicy octopus skewers, and salt-and-vinegar chicken wings.