The evolution of speakeasies from a drinker’s necessity in the Prohibition era to exclusive, hard-to-find refuges for top-shelf whisky and cocktails has seen dozens of swanky, dimly lit bars flourish around the world. Australia has some of the best...if you’re willing to wander off the main streets and find them.
Eau de Vie
1 Malthouse Lane, Melbourne
Eau de Vie is undisputed royalty in Melbourne’s bar scene. As you open the unmarked brown door, the eerie quiet of Malthouse Lane turns into a cosy and buzzing – but never raucous – hive of liquor aficionados in booths or at tables enjoying dates, after-work drinks or special occasions. But it’s at the bar the magic happens: the bartenders ply their trade with innovative twists on classic flavour combinations with the added theatrics of liquid nitrogen and fire. Try the espresso zabaglione for a spectacular version of the espresso martini.
Basement 275 Clarence Street, Sydney
Grandma’s Bar eschews the old-world style of handlebar moustaches, pocket watches and polished brass fittings (for that, try old favourite Baxter’s Inn or new favourite The Swinging Cat). Grandma’s is similarly in a basement, but it feels like it too, with a chic more ‘disused subway’ than ‘jazz age’ feel. But don’t let that deter you; it has some of the best cocktails in Sydney, period. Try the Pink Pepper Martini for something strong, or the Jasmine and Elderflower Collins for something more refreshing.
The Mechanic’s Institute
Rear 222 William Street, Perth
The West’s weather is too good to huddle in dank basements. The Mechanic’s Institute still follows the requisite rule of hidden bars in that, to enter, patrons must step into an alleyway and then take some stairs. But this time, we’re going up to a rooftop that sits above Flipside, from which you can order burgers to go with your cocktail. The Coke and Fernet Branca, if you’re adventurous, embodies a trend seeing the introduction of the cult Italian amaro to a wider audience.
Lindes Lane, Adelaide
Next to the Mall’s Balls in Rundle Mall, there’s a laneway. Walk down it. In Lindes Lane, the lane, you’ll happen upon Lindes Lane, the cosy wine bar and eatery, where locals enjoy an eclectic mix of modern Australian fare with influences from Asia and the Americas. There are vegetarian and gluten-free options, as well as extensive beer and wine lists. There’s an even more secret bar tucked away in the basement: the Bar Low Room.
The Walrus Club
543 Coronation Drive, Toowong, Brisbane
The first rule of Walrus Club: don’t talk about Walrus Club. But do invite friends to discover it on their own. The second rule of Walrus Club: dress snappy. If shorts and thongs are your go-to style for a casual night on the town in Brisvegas, this is not the place for you. The Walrus Club is where old-fashioned, high-proof magic happens. If you’re wondering, it is so named because of the SS Walrus, a steamship that in 1869 was converted into a floating distillery and sugar mill, earning its place as poster girl for rum running in Queensland.
Rear 35-37 London Circuit, Canberra
Look for the velvet rope and liquor licence on the otherwise unmarked wall in Hobart Place. Duke Ellington playing in the background ensures Molly oozes atmosphere. The only clue on Molly’s website as to her location is a set of GPS coordinates. Expertly trained staff, excellent wines, cocktails and whiskies, and a room that promotes conversation make this an ideal date spot. Or, head through to the copper-lined vault where you can store your own bottle in a locker for next time.