Melbourne-style bars used to mean something very specific. You know the drill: urban backstreet with minimal signage that manages to be inventive despite having no budget to speak of. Our homegrown bar scene, however, has been established for over two decades, filling the city with bewildering options, and the term seems to have served its purpose. To revive or restore.
No matter if you're tying one on in the neon and raucous music of the Beaufort and Heartbreaker, sipping a perfectly made martini from beautiful, correct stemware at the Everleigh or Romeo Lane, or marvelling at the precise, thoughtful wine or whisky lists of bars like Smalls and the Whiskey Room, you can tell that the best bars in Melbourne are committed to quality on every level. When it comes to bars, we here in town take things very seriously.
We may have crossed over into the Next Wave because the liquor licencing authorities in Victoria appear to have decided that we are now mature enough to handle a few more small late-night joints.
Be sure to check out the recent crop of late-night supper clubs that have boosted Melbourne's reputation as a top late-night destination. Both Arlequin and the soon-to-open Mayfair have fully functional kitchens, making them as much about food as they are about drinking. It's all very refined, mature, and timely.
Wine bars, meanwhile, seem to be springing up everywhere. These tiny storefronts, which take their cues from the original bar/bottleshop models popularised by the City Wine Shop and the Gertrude Street Enoteca, feature communal tables and neatly stacked shelves, giving them the feel of a modern take on the traditional pub.
Because of how naturally it fits into the culture of Melbourne, the bar scene is often overlooked. But listen up. People who are instrumental in shaping our bar culture want us to have a good time, try something different, and pay close attention to our bourbon, scotch, or vino. This is the Melbourne way of doing things.
FAQs About Melbourne
For a long time, there were only two places to buy alcohol – hotels and restaurants. The rules stated that restaurants had to serve a meal with alcohol, while hotels had to provide accommodation and have food available.
Liquor licences were so hard to get and rules so restrictive that by 1986, Melbourne only had 571 licenced venues, down from 4900 in 1910.
But slowly, things began to change. In 1986, the State Government made sweeping changes to liquor licences, allowing restaurants to serve beer without food and hotels to serve beer without providing accommodation. And they allowed bars to stay open until midnight.
But the big law change came in 1994 when Premier Jeff Kennett changed a rule that said every bar or pub had to install a kitchen. This rule was designed to help Crown Casino, which was building a massive development in the South Bank.
But this simple change made opening smaller bars much cheaper. That, combined with cheap rents in the CBD, led to the rise of Melbourne’s famed laneway bar culture.
As a result of these changes, Melbourne has 14,423 licensed bars as of 2018. On average, two new liquor licences were granted every day for 20 years from 1986.
It depends on your budget and what you like to drink – a pot of beer will typically cost $5-10, while a cocktail is usually in the $20-$25 range. We pride ourselves on bringing you to a variety of Melbourne hidden bar venues, so you’ll always find something you like. You are welcome to order as much or as little as you like on tour.
Melbourne is renowned for its nightlife, meaning there are many great cocktail bars to check out. The top-rated by review is 1806, which is one of the more unique cocktail bars in the city. Worth a try.
Best Bars in Melbourne
In this town, it’s not enough to mix a tasty cocktail. Every corner of the city—as well as flights of stairs and tiny, bin-laden laneways—harbours a bar the owners have created with love and in their style. Narrowing down the options is key to mastering drinking in Melbourne.
Here, we’ve given you a mix of brewery bars, high-class cocktail lounges, rooftop venues with views to die for, and places to let it all hang out. No matter which direction you go, our list of Melbourne's best bars has you covered.
There are neon lights, a jukebox stacked with classic rock albums by the Eagles, Bowie, and Queen, and no dance floor. That doesn’t mean there won’t be people shaking their booties in whatever tiny space they can find.
Call Heartbreaker a dive bar if you like, but it’s the best place for some old-fashioned raucous fun. Heartbreaker might be in the heart of The City, but this crowd is rock 'n' roll to its core. It’s not that no one comes here after work; rather, it's that ties come off and top buttons loosen.
Anyone versed in the ways of billiards turns up on Sunday evenings for the weekly Ballbreaker pool tournament. This joint stays open until 3 a.m. every night except Sunday when you’ll have to clear out by 1 a.m.
If every neighbourhood had a Gerald’s, no one would ever again venture far from home. Jovial, relaxed, and inhabited by locals, this is the warm and welcoming wine bar you want as your second living room.
With lace curtains and shelves of curiosities, the space—in Carlton North—isn’t going to win any design awards; then again, it has a charming European atmosphere—as if it's been airlifted out of a small Spanish or Italian village. The 200 bottles on the wine list range from the classics to the skin-contact and orange selections that seem to be getting a lot of recent attention.
There are always three reds, three whites, and a sparkling open for by-the-glass pours—if you happen to get there early enough or as a bottle finishes, you get to choose the next to lose its cork. You can also order from the range of craft beers, classic cocktails, and spirits, but most people are here for the vino. To ignore the menu—which changes daily and is written on a sheet of butcher’s paper hanging behind the bar—is to do yourself a disservice.
When you arrive at Arlechin, having stumbled past the fairy lights and Makatron mural in its Chinatown laneway, you feel as though you’ve found a local secret. That it has just 40 seats adds to the allure. With its barrel-vaulted cork ceiling, marble-top bar, and walls of wine, it has a sleek cellar vibe.
Sure, the barkeep can fix you a classic, and any of those bottles of wine you see can be uncorked. But be sure to look over the cocktail list. Light up the evening with a Firebird—rye, apricot brandy, bitters, and Champagne with an orange twist—or invoke an air of mystery with the Rear Window, which blends bourbon, Aperol, lemon, sweetened ginger, and bitters.
The food here is first-rate. The short Italian menu ranges from oysters to "midnight spaghetti," a snack-size serving of pasta topped with a tasty sauce of chopped canned tomatoes, capers, chilli, oregano, and a splash of colatura di Alici (an anchovy sauce from Campania). Best of all, the menu is served until 3 a.m.
The old-world décor—Chesterfields, crystal chandeliers, bentwood chairs around sturdy tables—and low lighting create The Everleigh's elegant 1920s-style ambience in Fitzroy. Sit at the bar if you want to watch the bartenders in action or slide into a booth in the second room for a more intimate setting.
The bar was updated in 2017 to handle slightly larger groups more easily, but everyone keeps it nice. You can have whatever you like; tell the staff the mood you’re in, and they’ll create something for you. All the classic bases—fizzes, sours, Old Fashioneds, and Sazeracs—are covered, but if you'd like something a bit different, try the Debutant, which combines gin, pomegranate, lime, and orange bitters in a coupe.
There’s a small selection of snacks—duck and pistachio terrine, Ortiz sardines, triple cream brie—but you’re not eating dinner here.
In Melbourne, there's always a hip new bar to check out, but when you get sick of fighting for a bar stool with a horde of Instagrammers, you can always find a big, bustling Cookie in Chinatown. Blending cocktail lounges, beer halls, and Thai eateries seems effortless.
Great black-and-white murals adorn the walls, and the tiny, highly sought-after Juliet balconies are arranged alongside a row of beer taps. Hide behind the extended bar for a quieter spot, away from the rest of the patrons.
Menus are posted inside the covers of old children's books, and they feature an extensive wine list (70 pages long), international microbrews on tap, and a wide selection of cocktails (ranging from fruity, refreshing tall numbers to chilli-infused martinis).
Irish whisky, Punt e Mes, Grand Marnier, Fernet-Branca, bitters, and an orange twist are stirred together to make a Bartender's Handshake, the perfect nightcap.
There are plenty of bars in Fitzroy with the same kind of atmosphere as Frankie. It has a bit of a homegrown aesthetic, with historic photos covering the walls in a collage, timber panelling, and a wall of draped rope separating the two halves of the room. The reason you’re here, however, is because the 150 spirits behind the bar (apart from a few tequilas) have all been distilled in Australia.
The game's name here are those spirits—either neat if that’s your thing or the inventive cocktails. The Trent From Punchy (named for a fictional Youtube sensation) blends Husk Distiller’s unaged Agricole with blood limes in a local take on Ti’ Punch. The Pepperberry Fizz, meanwhile, blends Melbourne Gin Company’s finest spirit with lemon, pepper berry syrup, a dash of egg white, and soda.
A boilermaker is a beer accompanied by a shot of whiskey—not exactly the most refined manner of drinking—so this bar in the CBD is far more stylish than it has any right to be. The room is warm and woodsy, with a mesmerising number of bottles lined up behind the bar—the stools are the best place to be—and good blues music emanating from the sound system. There are more than 900 whiskies, which range from $12 to $380.
There are also ten beer taps, and what comes out of the—craft beer from Australia and further afield—changes weekly. If that doesn’t quench your thirst, try one of the excellent cocktails, including an ultra-creative riff on a martini with tequila, vermouth, green chilli liqueur, pear liqueur, and grapefruit oil.
Moon Dog Craft Brewery
Moon Dog Brewery Bar in Abbotsford, a good glimpse into Melbourne's craft beer scene, makes some inventive brews, some created by adding, say, watermelon or truffle to the vat. The last time we were there, we tucked into jugs of Splice of Heaven pine-lime IPA, a little tropical number, and finished with a Cake Hole black forest stout.
For the less adventurous, there’s the Love Tap lager or Old Mate pale ale, plus cocktails, wines, and spirits for the beer-averse. Everyone behind the bar is a beer lover, so don't be shy about asking for more info about what's on tap. Every Thursday night and Saturday afternoon, one of the bartenders leads a tour of the brewery.
Melbourne Supper Club
Behind a heavy, unmarked door in Chinatown is stairs ascending to the Melbourne Supper Club, an upscale late-night venue. The wine list reads like an encyclopedia, with several pages dedicated to each grape variety and about 16 options available by the glass.
There's an equally impressive selection of beers, spirits, and cocktails. A menu caters to the late-night crowd, with a short selection of substantial dishes—grilled flatbread pizza topped with wild mushrooms, parmesan, truffle oil, and honey; Japanese-style fried chicken—plus snacks.
The Lui Bar
The greeting you receive in the ground-floor lobby, where you’re announced as the elevator is called for you, indicates the elegance to come. During the day, Lui Bar—which is located 55 floors above the city in the CBD—offers views over the Dandenong Ranges in the distance; at night, twinkling lights unfurl in all directions below. It's a sophisticated space, too, with low, comfy seating and a stunning cloudlike chandelier by artist Mikala Dwyer. There's a relatively concise yet excellent list of wines, beers, and spirits.
The Velvet Rotor Macadamia Martini mixes macadamia fat–washed vodka with vaporised butter; the Vodka Pour Over, meanwhile, features a slow-drip blend of Belvedere vodka and single-estate coffee. Come here to treat yourself. There’s the view, the sophisticated room, and the great drinks, all of which add up to a winning package.
Arbory Bar & Eatery
What was once a disused platform on the edge of Flinders Street Railway Station has been repurposed into Arbory, one of Melbourne’s most popular outdoor bars. The drink stations and facilities are inside shipping containers, tables populate a 500-foot deck, and big umbrellas and heaters keep things dry and warm.
The biggest attraction, however, is the uninterrupted view of the Yarra River. You can get anything you like, but for ease and speed, order one of the pre-batched cocktails on tap—the nitro espresso martini or the featured gin cocktail (which changes seasonally) are both great.
When Melbourne’s weather is playing nice, there’s no better place to be than Bomba Rooftop, a contemporary bar in Chinatown with sparkling views of the surrounding city buildings and plane trees. The tapas restaurant downstairs inspires the food and drink.
Spanish wines dominate the shortlist; local craft beers and ciders are also popular. Cocktails range from classics (G&Ts) to creative concoctions like the Naked & Boozy, which blends Australian gin with rosé, lychee, grapefruit, and mint.
Lock & Key
Climb the stairs behind a bookcase in Captain Melville, a restaurant set in a bluestone pub in the CBD that’s more than 150 years old, to find Loch & Key, a more intimate bar with a vibe that isn’t dissimilar to a cabin in the woods. Timber-panelled nooks, intimate booths, and deer heads mounted on the wall all give this lair the feel of a secret gentleman’s club.
There’s also a great balcony for those who need some air. This is a no-brainer if you’re looking for a place to wind down after a night of clubbing, although it's just as great earlier on when the scene is much calmer and when you'll have a much better chance of snagging a spot on the balcony.
The approach—up a 1970s elevator—doesn’t inspire confidence, but once you emerge on the roof, you'll find that Madame Brussels is like the most fun fancy garden party you've ever attended in the CBD. From daytime well into the night, small groups sit at glossy white outdoor furniture atop faux turf.
The staff can whip up whatever you'd like, but the house specialty is the boozy punch, which comes in jugs for either two or four. The Madame’s Fruity Double D Cups consists of local vermouth, gin, ginger ale, and lemonade. All finished with cucumber, strawberry, lemon, and mint.
Bar Liberty's interior feels a bit austere, but when it’s filled with drinkers—as in, on most nights—the space (in Fitzroy) fills with genuine warmth. The owners, who have pedigrees that include many of Melbourne’s fine-dining establishments, wanted to create a place anyone would enjoy, and they’ve certainly achieved that. It’s all about wine here, with a focus on small producers and natural bottles. There’s also a short but sensational cocktail list.
Melbourne’s best bars are hidden in plain sight in the city centre.
While it lacks Sydney's allure and Byron Bay's total chill vibe, Melbourne more than makes up for it in other areas, such as its excellent cuisine, lively nightlife, and innovative artistic scene, as well as its excellent music scene.
Much of Melbourne's allure is not out in the open for all to see; however, it can be discovered by wandering through the vibrant, hipster neighbourhood of Fitzroy or getting lost in the never-ending laneways of the CBD (Central Business District).
One of the city's sexiest cocktail bars is hidden away in an attic, and the "can't-miss" restaurant can only be reached by navigating a maze of alleys covered in graffiti.
Pizza Pizza Pizza
New Yorkers don’t need to travel far to find a good slice, but when they find themselves in Melbourne, the pies at Pizza Pizza Pizza, a pizza joint-cum-cocktail bar, are worthy of a visit. The American-inspired venue serves tasty classics like a magic mushroom or triple cheese, as well as more adventurous pies, including a dessert pizza made up of white chocolate, sliced almonds, and vanilla ice cream.
But the allure of melted cheese is simply a gateway to the magic hidden behind the neon sign illuminating the doorway of 16 Meyers Place: Behind a velvety black curtain is a nameless cocktail bar. Expect to find intimate booths and seating, dim lighting, a DJ on deck, and a great cocktail menu featuring everything from frozen piña coladas to house milkshakes. Just add bourbon.
Ferdydurke is quintessential Melbourne: a bar you might miss if you’re not looking for it and something not unlike your favourite easy-to-please neighbourhood bar. Head down Tattersalls Lane and venture through the side door of its colourful neighbour, the much-loved laneway bar Section 8.
Climb two flights of stairs lined with eclectic wallpaper and hand-drawn graffiti, following the groovy tunes of the bar’s regular DJs to find it. Think of funk, hip hop, or disco as the backdrop to your cocktails and bar snacks where you can be anyone or no one and enjoy the heat of the night among strangers.
Whisky & Alement
The bartenders at Whisky and Alement are among the city's most knowledgeable, and the menu features more than a thousand different kinds of whiskeys.
Situated on the upper level of a building on Russell Street in the Central Business District, this hidden bar is staffed by friendly, down-to-earth people who are happy to offer suggestions from the nearly exhaustive list of rare and vintage whiskeys.
You can get it straight up, mix it into a cocktail, or pair it with one of their speciality beers. The Scotch Malt Whiskey Society offers members the opportunity to sample whisky straight from the barrel.