The new venue by Melbourne distiller Brunswick Aces has all the makings of any conventional cocktail spot – bar one.
The thing about this bar is that there’s no booze. In a nondescript Brunswick East warehouse – sandwiched between Temple Brewing and Market Lane’s roastery – is what’s billed as “Australia’s first permanent non-alcoholic bar”.
The concept of a bar without the booze – which sells both Brunswick Aces products and its competitors’ – doesn’t really have the novelty it once might have. We’re all drinking less anyway, and the non-alcoholic category is set to keep booming across the decade. The “trend” is fast becoming normalised, and even for me – a writer and regular boozer with a keen interest in all-things alcoholic – sipping a zero per cent Bridge Road Brewers pale ale feels normal. Once I would’ve naively wondered what the point of it all is, but knowing there are dedicated bars where non-drinkers aren’t out of place feels right for this moment.
Brunswick Aces was born in a local apartment block for the same reason the bar is open today: to bring people together without exclusion. A group of friends started making and drinking beer, wine and spirits – until a few stopped. “One of the girls got pregnant and one of the guys started running a lot of marathons,” says co-founder Stephen Lawrence, who – along with his mates – started distilling gin without the gin for inclusivity’s sake in 2017.
Four years on, at its namesake bar, the drinks menu is satisfyingly vast, with 100-plus beers, wines, spirits and cocktails from a collective of producers keen on banding together.
Lawrence and co-founder Cameron Hunt built the one-of-a-kind stills – visible through big glass panes behind the bar – producing “distillates” with intense flavour but no alcohol. Brunswick Aces calls it “sapiir”, a gin-like botanical-laden tipple that can turn a tonic into a proper drink, or slip seamlessly into a “complex, adult-tasting” cocktail.
The tropical King Louis blends coconut water and a cucumber-mint cordial with the Hearts sapiir (which has notes of sweet citrus and native Australian wattleseed). While the Brunswick – served in a coupe glass – is a speak-easy-style lemon-heavy concoction (made with lemon-husk marmalade, lemon oleo and lemon-verbena-tea syrup) that includes the London dry-style Spades sapiir. The rest of the cocktail list features zero-alcohol spirits from Brunswick Aces’ contemporaries, including Margaret River’s Ovant and Sweden’s Gnista.
You’ll also find zero-alcohol wine by big guys like McGuigan and newcomers like Songbird – from sparkling to pinot noir – as well as an exceptional range of Melbourne-made Non. Plus, there are beers in a multitude of styles including stouts and XPAs, by the likes of Heaps Normal, Upflow and Hawkesbury Brewing.
The team considers the space – an extension of the Key Branding’s bottle designs – “industrial baroque”, and it suits. There’s a welcoming plushness created by brassy fixtures, emerald-coloured velvet drapes and matching round-backed chairs. It’s a classy, homely sort of place that, to its credit, looks and feels just like a business-as-usual cocktail bar.
And that, for the Brunswick Aces team, is the ultimate goal. “Everyone’s got a reason why they don’t want to drink at some point, but they still want to be sociable,” says Lawrence. “And that’s literally the ethos around the business.”
Brunswick Aces Bar
124 Weston Street, Brunswick East
Thu to Sat 3pm–11pm