Raise a glass, Melbourne. The cream of the crop of 2022’s bar openings really run the gamut, with each boozer on this list catching our attention for a slightly different reason.
One delivers the best kind of house-party vibes. Another is a full-blown gin utopia. And others are multifaceted enough to keep you there all night long.

Here are the 12 most impressive bar openings of the year – in alphabetical order.

Albert’s, Armadale

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Ever since Albert’s opened last year, behind a heritage-listed arcade in Armadale, it’s been buzzing. It was one of the best cafe openings of 2021. But when it transfigured into a wine bar, it clearly clicked with locals looking for a relaxed but considered place for a drink. If anything, there wasn’t enough space to meet demand. So, when the neighbouring hairdresser vacated, owners Toby Koffman, Doug Milledge and Alice Freer jumped at the lease. It’s newly expanded, now with double the footprint and a new look inspired by classic European bars and eateries that transition seamlessly from day to night. There’s also a beautiful new marble-topped bar with sage and terracotta colours running through the stone. To eat, there’s a rich rigatoni topped with beef short-rib ragu, while you can choose a vino from a well-rounded list of 180 to 200 bottles.

Caretaker’s Cottage, CBD

It’s rare for a bar to have a legitimate house-party vibe, but that’s the beauty of Caretaker’s Cottage. Stumbling in when it’s heaving feels like taking a punt on a well-connected friend of a friend’s Saturday-night soiree and realising it was worth getting out of your trackies for as soon as you walk through the door. That’s due, in part, to the space: it’s literally homey. Behind Little Lonsdale Street’s Wesley Place church, the 105-year-old bluestone building the bar is in was once the church caretaker’s quarters – hence the name. It’s been resurrected into what’s “probably Victoria’s smallest pub” by the team behind seriously good (but not too serious) pop-up bar Fancy Free. The inspiration? Old British pubs. In a room to the left, there’s a snug, vinyl-spinning bar where Martinis and milk punch are mainstays, plus Guinness (a call bell reads “more Guinness please”). To the right is a sort of dining room more suited to bunkering down. And the original staircase remains intact, perfect for in-between lingering and mingling.

Clover, Richmond

Between them, chef Charley Snadden-Wilson and wine guy Lyndon Kubis have CVs that read like laundry lists of some of Melbourne’s favourite eating and drinking spots. Snadden-Wilson has worked at Etta, Embla and the now-closed Ramblr; Kubis’s mini wine empire includes The Hills, The Alps, Toorak Cellars, Milton Wine Shop and The Moon. Their new joint venture – Richmond wine bar Clover – is no less exceptional, emerging as one of the suburb’s most exciting openings of the year. Find it in a former light-fitting store on Swan Street. Alongside young and experimental drops, expect old-world wines and back-vintage bottles from producers who were embracing lo-fi techniques long before they were cool. The wine list spans Australia, France, Italy, Germany and beyond. The menu is a bit more focused, with Snadden-Wilson serving French-leaning fare that might appear simple but is driven by razor-sharp technique.

The Continental Sorrento, Sorrento

After a renovation for the ages – in excess of $100 million – one of the state’s most anticipated openings of the year, Sorrento’s Conti Hotel, has finally landed. Now rechristened The Continental Sorrento, it marks an extraordinary new era for the limestone beacon on Ocean Beach Road. The original, storied Conti has been painstakingly restored to its former glory – as a monumental new public bar with pub classics, extravagant seafood dishes and some Longrain transplants on the Scott Pickett-designed menu. The new bar dominates the property’s ground floor, with an inviting, old-world feel accentuated by the preserved limestone and timber finishings. Adjoining it is a beautiful beer garden with a vaulted glass ceiling. Plus, there’s late-night speak-easy Barlow, and Audrey’s, Pickett’s new destination fine diner that puts nostalgia on a silver platter. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure situation – set aside a day (and night).

Don’s, Prahran

Stan’s has become a sandwich staple for the south-east since opening last year. But the next step for one of its co-owners, Alex Gavioli, was to strike out on his own with a new night-time venue, Don’s. The tiny wine bar is something fresh for the Commercial Road strip it sits on, but it feels right at home for a number of reasons. It’s as cosy and communal as a dinner party, and despite being right across from Prahran Market, it still has an “if you know, you know” quality. Plus, the wine list is impressive but accessible, with Gavioli leaning into the stories behind the pours (without the pretence). And, importantly, the food punches above its weight. Case in point: a stomping, secret-recipe fried-chicken sanga slathered with spicy jalapeno jam.

Four Pillars, Healesville

When Four Pillars first opened its distillery to the public in 2015, it was an instant hit, drawing droves of gin-lovers to Healesville in the Yarra Valley. But the original cellar door struggled to keep up with demand almost as soon as it opened. So, after a colossal $7 million expansion, the award-winning and internationally acclaimed gin brand has tripled its footprint – and reasserted itself as a world-class gin destination. Shrouded by a striking copper veil, the new 1000-square-metre gin utopia is a sight to behold. It includes a very green gin garden, a dramatic copper bar, a glowing gin shop and multiple events spaces. Find the full gamut of Four Pillars gin (piped directly into the bar to reduce glass waste), gin-centric cocktails and Strangelove tonic on tap.

Full Moon Fever, Abbotsford

Ah, the summer arvos that’ll be spent here. It’s all sun, stone and succulents at the heaving new Cali-desert-inspired rooftop bar above (and by) Lulie Tavern. The rollicking downstairs boozer has become an Abbotsford favourite for the way it recalls the classic American dive, filled with old-timey neon signs and bric-a-brac, and Tom Petty memorabilia and tunes. And its new upstairs sibling is already primed to have the same impact. You’ll forget you’re on Johnston Street when you ascend the stairs. Settle into a big booth with your mates and kick things off with a cactus-shaped drinks dispenser filled with a mix of tequila blanco, blood orange and sparkling brut that serves 12. (Cocktails are all Cali-style.) And to eat? A riff on the Hungry Jack’s Whopper that’s “heavy on the onion”, plus Southern fried buffalo wings and hot chips and gravy.

Her, CBD

Her is here, and she ticks a hell of a lot of boxes. HQ Group (Arbory Bar & Eatery, Arbory Afloat) has transformed one of the city’s heritage-listed gems – Lonsdale Street’s Pacific House, once a cigarette manufacturer – into a four-pronged mega-venue. Here, eating, drinking and dancing all happen under one roof, the different spaces connected by a dramatic neon-lit stairwell. And you can easily (or accidentally) lose an entire evening – which might have something to the do with the on-the-mark on-tap cocktails that come at lightning speed. Start with a Charred Pineapple Margarita up top at the oasis-like rooftop bar with uninterrupted city views. It’s bright and playful – with marble floors, skirted stools and orange-velvet banquettes – and, importantly, it’s weatherproof. Then descend to the first floor where, behind a huge unmarked timber door, you’ll find the intimate, glowing Music Room, a listening bar modelled after the vinyl-only boltholes found in Japan and Europe. If you can’t find it at first, persevere – if only to sink into the comfiest couch of all time.

Hotel Lombardo, Coburg

It may have opened in August, but Hotel Lombardo – sitting in a stretch of shops on Sydney Road, just north of the Moreland Road intersection – feels like it’s been there forever. It could be the vintage plates straight out of Nonna’s cupboard, on which to slap down slices of saucy pepperoni pizza, or the nostalgic black-and-white snapshots of 1970s New York and retro timber panelling on the walls. Maybe it’s the chequerboard carpet, or the in-demand pool table and glimmering disco ball hovering above it. Either way, this moodily lit pizza joint already has a lived-in vibe (impressive, given it was, until recently, a stark bakery), with an aesthetic that takes inspiration from NYC dive bars and your Italian uncle’s pool room. We’re very into the results. And the Negronis.

Jayda, CBD

Tucked away on the ground floor of a 1930s art deco building – right next to his Maha flagship – is Shane Delia’s opulent new CBD bar Jayda, his first foray into the cocktail arena. Every corner is alluring, with moody lighting, sultry velvet sofas and subtle Middle Eastern cues throughout. It’s loud and vibrant, but also has intimate spaces for quiet conversations. Cocktails are the star of the show here, with eight original drinks by Orlando Marzo, the 2018 World Class Bartender of the Year – the spicy Marg is a yuzu-Aleppo pepper delight. But just as you’d expect, the snack game is strong as hell. The molten basturma and kasseri cheese toastie is truly elite, as is the “after-service sandwich”, a tribute to the staff meal the Maha crew makes, stuffing crispy, bottom-of-the-pan pieces of the iconic 12-hour roasted lamb shoulder into fluffy bread rolls. Yes.

March, Collingwood

When a frontrunner in Melbourne’s fine-dining scene opens a bar, people take notice. And, in the case of March, it’s with good reason. The sexy 26-seat bar on Smith Street is a sibling to Ides, one of Melbourne’s finest fine diners. It’s a chance for chef and owner Peter Gunn to serve dishes that don’t fit the brief for his acclaimed Collingwood restaurant – and for you to try them (in the space next door) without the hefty degustation price tag. A standout is the finger-lickin’-good whole quail tossed in sweet-and-sour sauce and coriander oil. It’s food first, booze second here, and spirits serve as a best-of list featuring Barbadian rum, Mexican tequila, Osakan sake and Tasmanian whisky. The design pièce de résistance is the ritzy marble bar which, for both aesthetic and noise-control purposes, is lined in the same boldly printed carpet that covers the floors.

One Trick Pony, Fitzroy North

Three years in the making, this new Fitzroy North wine bar and shop is a departure from big, bold barbeque for Bluebonnet chef and owner Chris Terlikar. But it’s also a homecoming of sorts. He’s back in the charming 140-year-old corner pub he moved Bluebonnet into in 2016 after the original Collingwood restaurant was gutted by fire the year before. And if it proves one thing, it’s that Terlikar is no one trick pony. The Melbourne chef is best known for the smoky slabs of meat he fell in love with in Texas, but pre-barbeque epiphany, he was cooking at Michelin-starred restaurants overseas, including Public in New York. Here, he’s pulling from those days with an ever-changing modern-Australian menu. You might find house-made wild boar and fennel salami, or luscious rabbit gnocchetti. Plus, there’s a roaming chrome cocktail trolley.

Honourable mentions
A few brewpubs caught our eye this year, including Kaiju Cantina, a ’70s-style converted-warehouse operation by a local craft brewery that shot to fame with its smashable, tropical Kaiju Krush; and the first location for young-gun brand Co-Conspirators. Plus, another actual pub – the Marquis of Lorne team confidently took the reins at longstanding Fitzroy North boozer the Royal Oak Hotel.

Audience picks
Two bar openings really clicked with you this year. One was the triumphant return of Brunswick’s notorious Railway Hotel, now a mega-pub with room for almost 1000. Another was Harvie, a svelte rooftop bar that you’ll find by scaling a dramatic spiral staircase in Armadale.

Additional reporting by Katya Wachtel, Quincy Malesovas, Evan Jones, Emily Holgate, Daniela Frangos, Sasha Murray and Jo Rittey.

Here are our lists of the best restaurant and cafe openings of 2022.