It’s an exciting time to be boozing in Melbourne – and beyond. We’re only at the halfway mark of the year, but already a throng of new bar openings have caught our eye.
Three iconic drinking destinations have been reborn and deserve to be rediscovered. Two of Melbourne’s most dynamic young beer brands have opened their debut taprooms. And some seasoned operators have poured their expertise into new spots.
Here are eight of our favourite new watering holes (and some honourable mentions). And if you missed last week’s round-up of Melbourne’s best restaurant openings of 2022 (so far), here it is.
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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.
Just before the end of last year, one of Melbourne’s youngest and most exciting beer brands, Co-Conspirators, opened its debut brewpub. It was five years – to the day, almost – since owners Deon Smit, Maggie Smit, Jacqui Sacco and Tim Martin first met. They’ve taken over a historical engineering workshop on Victoria Street in Brunswick (that forged some of Melbourne’s early tramlines) and turned it into their new HQ. The soaring warehouse and small-ish rear courtyard are licensed for 195 people. And its 24 taps pour the brand’s signature hop-forward beers, plus fruited sours, pastry stouts, Bodriggy hard seltzer and Noisy Ritual wines. And food trucks often pull up out front, if you’ve worked up an appetite.
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 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 Longrain transplants by Scott Pickett. It dominates the property’s ground floor, with an inviting, old-world feel, as well as preserved limestone and timber. Adjoining it is a beautiful beer garden with a vaulted glass ceiling, plus there’s late-night speakeasy 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).
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 tonic on tap, made by Strangelove.
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 Railway, Brunswick
To say Brunswick’s Railway Hotel has a chequered history is perhaps an understatement. The three-storey, nearly 140-year-old pub on Albert Street has served as a morgue and a hostel – among other things – in its long lifetime. And it fell into disrepair after a drug bust in 2016. But its fall from grace is now a distant memory. Earlier this year, the north-side institution made a triumphant return – with a new look and owner – after major renovation. (Every storey had been ransacked, supposedly by people looking for remnants of the building’s past.) A stunning 17-metre brick bar is the centrepiece of the new public bar, and there’s a sprawling Euro-inspired beer garden. Plus, a laid-back, late-night corner bar – behind the preserved historical facade – that’s licensed until 3am, with dark wood furnishings and vinyl-only DJs.
Kaiju Cantina, Huntingdale
When local craft brewery Kaiju launched in 2013, it was with a double IPA called Aftermath – and bold flavour became the house style. Despite that, what’s likely the biggest drawcard at its new Huntingdale brewpub, Kaiju Cantina, is a fruity, easy-drinking brew called Kaiju Krush; with Krush, the brand went from Melbourne craft-beer darling to crossover success in what felt like the blink of an eye. At Cantina’s converted warehouse space, expect retro ’70s style, cheeseburger pizzas and 16 taps pouring small-batch exclusives, pack-a-punch double IPAs and, of course, Krush. While the brewpub is on an industrial street, the design channels suburban nostalgia. “It’s a modern take on walking into your grandma’s house – if your grandma had a triple-front in the south-eastern suburbs,” co-owner Callum Reeves told us when it opened.
This eccentric new wine bar from the Carwyn Cellars team intentionally strays from the pack. “On paper, it looks a bit wack,” co-owner Alex Schulz even admitted. But the unlikely formula works. It’s named after an appointment-only apothecary (of sorts) in Hamburg, Germany that sells homemade liqueur, mead and, in Schulz’s words, “psychedelic things”. But there are no illicit substances on the menu here; rather, aromatic German and Austrian white wines, and a smaller selection of medium-bodied reds like spätburgunder, a German-style pinot noir. They’re poured alongside punchy, lesser-seen Malaysian-inspired bar snacks. A highlight is ikan bilis, a crisp, textural blend of fried anchovy, potato, onion, peanuts, curry leaves and chilli. But there’s one nod to Germany: curry knackwurst.
We only got to bask in the glow of Bar Paradox – Andrew McConnell’s subterranean drinking den at Supernormal – for two weeks before the pop-up wrapped up, but it warrants a mention here. As does the Yarra Valley’s reimagined Hubert Estate for its Hobbiton-like design; the CBD’s Yarra Falls for its indoor-waterfall back bar, and Pearl for its chablis focus and 500-strong burgundy collection; and Thornbury’s Gigi, above Umberto Espresso Bar, which has a rooftop-bar view unlike most others in Melbourne.
Additional reporting by Quincy Malesovas, Nick Connellan, Evan Jones, Daniel Cunningham and Scott Renton.