Drop into a speakeasy-style sofa with a martini in hand, or thumb a list of artisan whiskies as long as your leg in one of Canberra's hip bars.
By Jennifer Pinkerton
Lighting bolts of energy have swept through Canberra’s bar scene over the past few years, resulting in a fresh crop of establishments in the precincts beside and within the city centre. Chill out or party on at one, or all, of these exceptional bars in the nation's capital.
Built inside an old bank vault, Molly likes to keep herself a secret. The bar's website enigmatically includes mere latitude and longitude coordinates for hunting down its location. Its unmarked entranceway – in Hobart Place in the city centre – could be confused with a cleaning cupboard. Yet inside, this cream tiled, golden lit, prohibition era space hums with whisky appreciation nights, cocktail lessons, monthly jazz performances, hidden rooms, and in winter, warming menu treats such as roasted chestnuts and heated cognac.
Summer-loving Canberra folk gather among the climbing vines and flower pots at Mint Garden Bar in Braddon. Only open in the warmer months, this bar has a Turkish-tiled bar front staffed by bow tie touting ladies and gents. It sits outside fine dining restaurant Sage in the Gorman House Arts Centre, an Art Deco-style building with open air courtyards. Perch at one of the bar's high tables, or take a seat around the fairy light festooned tree with a rose and lychee sangria and a plate of pulled pork croquettes to keep you company.
If you're after a drink in a sumptuous space, Parlour is for you. This wine bar was one of the original foodie occupants of the NewActon precinct, and its timeless and lavish feel will make you want to settle in for a while. Quilted leather adorns the bar area, velvet chairs and chesterfield couches dot rooms, and a leafy terrace out the front carries views over NewActon and beyond. Parlour’s inventive food, especially its tapas, matches the quality of its wine list – the handiwork of Peter Bell, a sommelier previously engaged at lauded restaurant Aubergine.
Hippo Co’s glass-fronted balcony looks out onto the hustle and bustle of Garema Place – the city centre's version of a public square – while inside, its owners have crafted a world that recalls the American Midwest. Taxidermied creatures feature on wooden walls, vintage light fittings hang from the ceiling, and more than 250 varieties of whisky stand proudly on bar shelves. Catch jazz performances here on Wednesday nights.
Both sophisticated and seriously playful, Joe's Bar is tucked inside East Hotel. The locally sourced Italian food here is a highlight, particularly the mozzarella and pea arancini balls, as is the eclectic decor that combines fuchsia walls with chain-draped lights, bright coloured benches, an assortment of funky and elegant glassware, a marble bar and the occasional fur throw. Step through the floor-to-ceiling concrete curtain at the bar's entrance and treat yourself to a wine from the bar's list of Italian and local blends, selected by Canberra region vigneron Fergus McGhie.
Arriving in the narrow rooms of The Phoenix in the city's historic Sydney Building, feels like entering the hull of a sailing boat decorated by a quirky Irishman with love for miscellany. Pouring jugs, vintage wheels, retro beer posters and crucifixes line the ceiling and walls of this wooden floored bar. A long selection of beer taps, boasting standard brews such as Guinness and Australian label Coopers, runs the length of the hut-like service area. Drinks aside, the best thing about The Phoenix is its dedication to live music and events. These include gigs focused on original music on Monday nights, quiz nights on Tuesdays, and poetry and film nights.