Chris Hopkins, the mixologist at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas recently spent 17 days in Australia consulting the new gastro pub the Merrywell, at the newly revamped Crown Perth. Hopkins, a Perth native, managed to find time to hop over to Melbourne and check out the city’s dynamic bar scene. “The last time I was there I wasn’t really involved in the cocktail world,” he says. “So it was cool to go back and see how Melbourne has really grown up and found its own food and drink identity.” Hopkins lucked out and had the community manager for Yelp Melbourne tour him around the city. “Six bars really stood out for different things and different reasons,” he says. “It was a long night of drinking.” The one downside: the strong Aussie dollar. “Cocktails started at around $19 and went as high as $24,” he says. Here, Hopkins shares the perfect cocktail crawl through Melbourne.
Eau Devie’s original Sydney operation was named world’s best cocktail bar years ago and now they have new location in Melbourne. The space is really cool and speakeasy-ish. There’s a private library room with lots of little alcoves and a wall moves and leads to a private member’s room with lockers. The bar has its own liquid nitrogen-dispensing tap that was custom built like a beer tap. The guys behind Eau Devie worked at NYC’s Milk and Honey so they trained with the best. Their Sydney operation is very big and high volume, but the new spot is smaller and more intimate. 1 Malthouse Lane, 61/(3) 412-825-441, eaudevie.com.au
“The library collection of spirits at this bar is huge and largely composed of bottles from the owner’s own private collection. 1806 is a classic cocktail bar that’s very traditional. The bartenders here do very classic recipes and don’t venture too far out of the box. They have an enormous bar, the biggest I saw in Melbourne, but there are only four or five stools around the bar and those seats let you watch the action. Each bartender rotates through a different section of the bar, almost the way a restaurant’s kitchen line is a run. So you’ll see a bartender cooking food in the kitchen or on the floor taking orders or behind the bar and then one person is the head bartender calling out the orders just like the head chef. They do crazy high volume drinks here and pump them out really, really fast. I was there on a Wednesday night and it was packed upstairs and down. I had this take on a Tom and Jerry that was almost like a twist on an eggnog made with a cappuccino frother and served with grated nutmeg. I told them I was going to steal the idea and have played around with it for my own menu. 67 Green St., 61/(3) 9529-7899, backbar.com.au, 1806.com.au
This is the weirdest, coolest dive bar I’ve ever been to. It’s down a back alley in the middle of nowhere and the bar is in a little tin shell mobile home that’s been put on blocks because there are no wheels. A canopy of military camouflage shades the outdoor tables and seats where people drink fresh made cocktails. The drinks are nothing fancy. It’s definitely not a cocktail destination, but the drinks are good and there’s no pretention. People grill on the open-pit barbecues, and there’s a good beer list, and live bands play music. It’s also one of the few places in the city you can still sit and have a cigarette. 27-29 Tattersalls Lane, 61/(3) 430-291-588, section8.com.au
The Croft Institute
Just around the corner from Section 8 we came upon the freakiest looking bar I’ve ever been. The Croft Institute has a restaurant/bar upstairs and the downstairs looks like a high school science lab from the 1960s or 70s. It’s located down a dead end alley, the kind of alley that makes you feel like you’re going to get mugged. But then you walk into this place and the walls are decorated with mosaic-style white tiles and cocktail tools hang from the walls. High tables that look like science bench tables line the back wall and there is a chalkboard menu of cocktails. It’s completely unexpected and very hipster. 21 Croft Alley, 61/(3) 9671-4399, thecroftinstitute.com
Kodiak Club is located in Fitzroy, an inner city suburb that used to be a run down neighborhood 15 years ago but is now completely hipster and trendy. Kodiak Club is a cool spot that serves good pub food like burgers and waffles and good beer. The night I went they were having an Iron Chef-style cocktail competition. They do this once a month and you never know which liquor brand is the sponsor and bartenders from around the city show up to compete. It moves venues just like an underground cocktail competition. 272 Brunswick St., 61/(3) 9417-3733, kodiakclub.com.au
The best all around bar I went to in Melbourne was the Black Pearl. I’d equate it to Employee’s Only in New York City. The bartenders were all tatted up and it felt like they were part of some brotherhood. The cocktail list changes every few weeks. When I told the bartender I drink everything he told me he could shock me and poured me a shot of angostura bitters. The owner’s name is Massimo and he’s this crazy Italian guy and he has a little place reservations-only place upstairs called the Attic that’s only open Thursday through Saturday. The Attic has great vintage liquors like 1970s Fernet and other geeky, weird stuff that cocktail geeks go wild for. 304 Brunswick St., 61/(3) 9417-0455