Brunswick has a long-standing reputation for showcasing a rich and diverse range of watering holes that epitomise the city’s grungy charm. Culture Trip speaks with Fiona Tolliday, venue manager at one of Brunswick’s most lauded late-night hotspots, Howler, to find out which bars are the best in the neighbourhood.
The bar scene in Melbourne’s Brunswick has a reputation for its eclectic character, sense of playfulness and its inclusivity, according to Fiona Tolliday, venue manager at Howler. “Brunswick has been slowly building its nightlife under the radar for some time now, and that hard work has paid off,” she says. “As an area, we offer a fun and varied range of places for people to go out. Brunswick bars are all supportive of one another, and when the people who are working there also choose to go out in the same places themselves, it speaks volumes to the quality of places that we have to choose from in Brunswick.”
The Amelia Shaw has a 1920s vibe Courtesy of The Retreat Hotel / Amelia Shaw
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Farther up Sydney Road on the Brunswick-Coburg border is the Edinburgh Castle, a local go-to and bona fide Brunswick classic. Tolliday describes it as having a “classic old pub feel. It has an old-school-style pub menu, great beers on tap and offers a 15-Australian-dollar [£7.85] lunch special during the week”. The expansive beer garden in which to while away the summer evenings, a weekly trivia night, gastropub delights, a cracking craft-beer menu and a really comfy, welcoming ambience make it a much-loved and much-frequented venue by Brunswick residents of all backgrounds and ages.
A converted woolshed, with a chic industrial interior design and a retractable roof that opens in the summer, Howler is one of Brunswick’s hidden gems and, naturally, one of Tolliday’s top picks. She was initially drawn to Howler because of its diverse range of live music, arts offerings (its monthly open-mic storytelling night, The Moth, is a big hit with Brunswick residents) as well as the stunning indoor-outdoor aesthetic. “The diversity in what we offer here at Howler is what makes us different, and it creates an eclectic and unique atmosphere that is just fun and special to be a part of.”
The craft-beer revolution unsurprisingly hit Brunswick hard, with a wealth of local breweries popping up over the past decade (see Temple, Thunder Road, Foreigner and Inner North) as well as craft-beer-specific joints, such as The Alehouse Project on Lygon Street. Tolliday is a big fan and recommends a trip to the salubrious watering hole, as the bar is “always changing its taps and it has really interesting beers on all the time. It also has a huge projection screen to watch the footy”. If discussing the delicacies of a fine IPA sounds like the ideal pastime, head to The Alehouse Project.
Amelia Shaw is a little cocktail bar above The Retreat Hotel on Sydney Road | Courtesy of The Retreat Hotel / Amelia Shaw
For a little more glamorous Great Gatsby-meets-Holly Golightly vibe, Amelia Shaw is a “great little cocktail bar above The Retreat Hotel on Sydney Road. It has a 1920s speakeasy vibe going on, and the cocktails are tasty,” Tolliday says. Amelia Shaw appeared on the Brunswick bar scene back in 2014 and has since become a local treasure. Named after the hotel’s first 1842 licensee, Amelia Shaw pays homage to the area’s history and offers a beautiful Californian-inspired cocktail menu with an Australian twist.
Located in a prime late-night spot, Bar Romantica pays homage to the legendary pizza joint (Café Romantica) that previously ruled the roost, closing down in 2017 after 30 years in business. In its new, more grown-up version, Bar Romantica takes on a new lease of life for the Brunswick bar scene, as Tolliday tells Culture Trip. “It has heart-shaped tables and a Twin Peaks feel to it. It’s definitely at its best late at night when you can listen to sultry tunes with a glass of red wine and a pizza.”
Atticus Finch offers an old-world vibe and an extensive wine list, rotating beer taps and innovative cocktails | Courtesy of Atticus Finch
Taking inspiration from the literary greats, Atticus Finch has a modest, old-world feel with a modern edge. A perfect mid-week date-night haunt by many a Brunswick local, Tolliday says Atticus Finch boasts “a really good cheese and charcuterie menu, and a focus on boutique and local drinks”. Its ever-changing wine list features organic and biodynamic wines and accompanies four rotating beers on tap, innovative cocktails and a small but select menu. Pro tip: Check out the cosy little garden out the back.
Benjys is a cute, communal karaoke spot, complete with a bar and beer garden with a twist. As the new kid on the block, it has been causing a bit of a stir. As Tolliday explains, “It’s a karaoke bar where you can bring your dog… enough said!” Whether it’s an after-work drink or a function, Benjys is a quirky little Brunswick venue that is heaps of fun and promises a great night out.
Tolliday describes this lynchpin of a venue as “a great grungy pub that is open until 3am. Its courtyard is huge, and I love it in the summer. Solid pub menu too!” Whether popping in for a pint, relaxing in the beer garden or out for a wild night of dancing, The Retreat is unequivocally an essential on any Brunswick best bars list. Watch out for the late-night queue around 11pm, but rest assured as visitors will have the best time at this legendary local.