They’re the cocktail guns, bartenders and beer brewers of Melbourne, and it’s their job to know all there is to know when it comes to booze. We’re usually hounding them about what to put in our glass, but we thought they might have some opinions when it comes to where to drink, too. Here’s where some of our city’s best bartenders head when closing time rolls around.
Cennon Hanson – Above Board
Cennon Hanson is an award-winning cocktail bartender but says she doesn’t know a heap about wine. That’s why she loves to “naively enjoy whatever glass” the Bar Liberty team puts in front of her. “Throw a mussel-dipped chip into the mix and this place turns into the physical manifestation of heaven,” Hanson says of the Johnston Street wine bar.
She’s also a fan of long afternoons at nearby Paradise Alley and has fond memories of spending sunny afternoons there with her boyfriend. “We sunk into the lounges with our cold, fizzy beers while David Bowie filtered through the Amazon of plants,” she says. “We now return every week.”
When Hanson’s craving a pub feed it’s off to The Lincoln in Carlton where she attempts to eat her weight in schnitzel (her words, not ours). “The fact they also have a spectacular wine list means I couldn’t possibly love this place more.”
Nights off are spent at the Palace Westgarth. “Popcorn for dinner and I can take my prosecco in with me? Shut up and take my money.”
Max Hart – Mjølner
Hart is a self proclaimed city guy and says he’s a sucker for Heartbreaker for its effortless combo of old-school rock, beer and pizza. Hart says if that 3am licence doesn’t take you to the end of the night then Loch and Key, open until 7am, might do the trick. “[It’s ]where you go if you don’t want your night to end,” Hart says.
For a more relaxed drink (maybe a cloudy natural wine), and his favourite spot for a date, Hart points to Embla, and when he isn’t feeling fashionable or flash, Spleen is “where the punks, drunks, weirdos and booze-fiends end up.”
When the sun’s out, Union Electric’s spectacular rooftop is his pick.
Dan Taranto – The Otter’s Promise
Taranto says he’s a sucker for craft-beer stalwart the Royston Hotel – the first pub in Melbourne to turn its taps away from the majors in favour of small, independent breweries – because it’s a “classic pub with great food and great beer”, but he says if you want the best beer selection in Australia, you need to hit up the back bar at Carwyn Cellars in Thornbury.
To impress a first date or to have a quiet dram to yourself, he reckons CBD bar Whisky and Alement is where it’s at. Even if you’re not a whisky fan, he says you can’t beat the team’s impressive drinks knowledge.
“It’s all about the divey pub vibes and quality beer,” Taranto says. He pauses for a second, then adds, “Bring your mates.”
Josh Hodges – Mr West
Josh Hodges is co-founder of Footscray bottle shop slash bar Mr West, and he’s the second bartender to tell us Carwyn Cellars has the best beer offering in town (“our shop aside”). But his first stop for a froth is the recently revamped Victoria Hotel. “No frills. You get good beer, good wine, good grub – and [you can] watch the footy,” Hodges says.
Like Hart at Mjølner, if Hodges is drinking in the city then he heads to Heartbreaker, a place so good he correctly guesses he’s not the only one to suggest it. “I’m sure you’ll have that as a recurring theme, but honestly it’s got a great vibe, is a lot of fun and has a good crew.”
He’s also a fan of Brunswick Street’s Elysian Whisky Bar. “If I want sink my teeth into something, or learn something about whisky, the team there is incredibly knowledgeable,” he says. “You can do half nips as well. If I’m going for the sake of learning or researching, I can be trying some pretty sexy whisky.”
Hodges says all his picks have something in common beyond top-notch booze. “That’s the cool thing about the venues that I’ve mentioned … they have such lovely and non-judgemental people behind the bar.”
Anita Sattler – Royal Saxon
Anita Sattler is a sucker for hidden spots. She puts Chapel Street speakeasy-style bar Jungle Boy right at the top of her list. “Enter through Boston Sub and then through an old-school fridge door,” she says. Inside, it’s jungle-themed, “and they know their stuff when it comes to cocktails.”
Just up the road is the southside outpost of city bar La La Land. “It’s really cozy inside with comfy chesterfield couches, and the bar staff are super nice,” Sattler says. “The cherry on top for hospo folks is the second happy hour from 10pm to 12am, where she can grab two-for-one Espresso Martinis. And there’s hidden speakeasy out back (look for the door with the phone). Perfect.
Another concealed favourite is Promise Bar, tucked away behind Promise Cafe in Prahran. “Good by day, naughty by night,” says Sattler. “It’s a fantastic … little gem.”
If she’s got friends visiting she’ll take them to Eau de Vie in the city. With no signage, and only an old-fashioned light out front to guide you in, Sattler recommends trying the Espresso Zabaione, loaded with Kahlua and a choice of vodka, rum or whisky, it’s finished with saffron-vanilla mousse and liquid nitrogen.