Joe Jones, the award-winning mixologist behind Melbourne’s institution Romeo Lane and the newly opened Mono-XO, gives Culture Trip his picks of the best cocktail bars in the city, from the dark and moody to ranch-inspired hangouts and Italian-style salumerie.
Joe Jones has won numerous awards, including Time Out’s Best Bartender of the Year in 2017. He describes the Melbourne bar scene as having “something for everyone, which is important in a city slowly edging towards 24-hour operation and less restriction. If you want table-service cocktails with restaurant-style presentation, you can have that. If you want bottles of champagne at 4am, you can have that. If you want reputable food around the clock, you can have that too.”
Melbourne has no shortage of bars, from spots for a perfect date to hidden speakeasies with perfectly poured cocktails. “I’m fairly well known for disregarding the bar industry,” he admits, “because of how wildly fake it can be.” Jones explains that it’s all about the vibe. “Good drinks help, but when you can do that yourself, the atmosphere and all the other bits become a lot more important.” Here are some of his favourite cocktail bars in the city.
Geralds Bar, Carlton North
Bar, Cocktail Bar, Wine Bar, Cocktails, $$$
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Labelled a “snug, cosy wine bar” by its staff, Geralds is an unassuming but lively bar on Rathdowne Street in Carlton North. The winner of several awards, and with a companion location in San Sebastian, Spain, Geralds focusses on seasonal and affordable food and drinks. The owners, Gerald Diffey and Mario Di Ienno, have created a light and carefree atmosphere with old records playing in the background and nautical and travel knick-knacks scattered throughout the space. “The staff and their uninhibited consideration towards the customer make the place a delight to visit,” says Jones.
“It is still one of my favourite after-work places. It gives no effs about anything other than having a good time, and it’s open late,” says Joe. Owner Con Christopoulos has recently rebranded Angel Music Bar to focus on people who want to party, or who finish work late. It has a rotating list of DJs, an outdoor courtyard and an all-night menu – courtesy of hole-in-the-wall service from Butchers Diner next door – that features dishes such as ham and cheese toasties, lobster mac ’n’ cheese and lasagna. It has tan leather booths perfect for large groups or intimate date nights, and an extensive cocktail list to make any mixologist or cocktail lover drool.
Dimly lit and moody, The Everleigh in Fitzroy focusses on classic style: old-world decor, custom cocktails and a private room for that special event. The Everleigh knows how to do glamour. “It is an excellent place to see the classics done right, and the staff make it a consistently pleasant experience,” says Joe. An in-house library stocks a vast selection of cocktail books, and the bar menu includes the Bartender’s Choice, which is curated by The Everleigh’s mixologists. The bar also has its own cocktail bottling company (The Everleigh Bottling Co.), so enjoying its signature cocktails at home during those rainy Melbourne nights is easy. With a slew of trophies, most notably Best Bar in 2019 and the Time Out Bar Award in 2015, as well as being placed on the World’s Best Bars list for two years running in 2013 and 2014, this place shows no sign of slowing down.
For those looking for some American flair, the Gem Bar and Dining on Wellington Street in Collingwood offers just that. It’s a ranch-style, no-fuss venue that serves beers on tap and classic cocktails, making it one of Jones’s favourite weekend retreats. “It’s a great Sunday afternoon with a great barbecue, as well as good tunes.” With cowboy boots, USA memorabilia, faux deer antlers and Mexican wrestling masks adorning its walls, The Gem is a bar like no other in Melbourne. The Southern barbecue is some of the best in the city and was inspired by owner Tonino Cordisco’s trip to New Orleans before he opened the bar in 2006. The menu features classics such as smoked brisket and sticky lamb ribs, intermingled with traditional pub grub like fish and chips. Wash it all down with one of the 16 beers on offer, or choose from a small wine list and delicious cocktails. The Gem also serves $7 pints and food specials from 4pm to 7pm from Tuesday to Friday, and a Wednesday trivia quiz hosted by ‘Elvis’.
Bar, Cocktail Bar, Pizzeria, Wine Bar, Italian, Cocktails, $$$
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Added to the Grossi Florentino group in 2012, Ombra Salumi Bar is styled as an Italian salumeria and wine bar – Ombra means ‘a glass of wine’ in Venetian dialect, and ‘preserving Italian tradition’ is the bar’s motto. Here, you can pair a glass of full-bodied red with the finest cured meats or a hearty slice of pizza. Ombra features exposed beams, simple seating arrangements and wooden decor split over two floors with a dining room downstairs and a bar on the upper level. Cocktails are around the $16 mark for a refreshing spritz, and there are also wine, beers on tap and a range of spirits, including 13 different types of gin. With large bay windows, it is no surprise that it is one of Joe’s favourites on a sunny day in the city. “[Ombra] is one of my favourite places when the sun is out. People watching and pizza – what’s not to like?”
Bar, Cocktail Bar, Wine Bar, Italian, Wine, Cocktails, $$$
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A wine store by trade, City Wine Shop serves up some of Melbourne’s best. With small plates for sharing, this traditional Italian eatery serves coffee and wine from lunch until late into the evening. Patrons can sample wines, open a bottle (a corkage fee applies) or take one home to enjoy on the couch. Somewhat ironically, Joe’s choice of beverage isn’t wine but a Campari-based drink. He notes, however, that “it’s well worth the often ill-used ‘institution’ status, and a perfect place to spend an afternoon with friends.”