11 of Brisbane’s best bars raising the, umm, bar
Brisbane‘s bar scene has come of age in recent years, the city’s erstwhile love for ginormous drinking barns replaced by intimate and highly specialised venues, many of which have won awards on the national stage.
Whether you’re hovering around the north or the south of the river, there’s a breezy courtyard to start the night and a low-lit den in which to finish it. Here are some of the very best bars.
Intimate to a fault, this tiny Fish Lane bolthole barely has room for 20 people. It means a seat at the venue’s weathered brass bar on a Saturday night is a rare and precious thing.
Once there, though, you’re treated to first-class service and an imaginative, molecular cocktail list courtesy of award-winning bartender Edward Quatermass. Tie it in with a show at nearby QPAC or dinner at one of the swish eateries dotted along the lane.
Tip: While in the area… try Julius for authentic Italian, Hello Please for Vietnamese food or Ol’ School for some of the best fish and chips in town.
Eleven might boast a cocktail list up there with the best in the city but it’s the spectacular views you’re really here for.
Looking uphill towards the city you get an oddly narrow perspective of the CBD, Brisbane’s offices and apartment towers clustering together to look like a shimmering citadel.
Saturday nights mean an overflow of beautiful people (and a dress code, so you’re aware). Instead, maybe hit their list earlier in the day for an afternoon Stoner Sangria or pre-dinner Essence of Thyme.
Tip: Eat at Madame Rouge for an intimate meal of French classics, or Gerard’s Bistro — one of Brisbane’s best restaurants.
The Cloakroom Bar
The Cloakroom Bar shifted the goalposts for Brisbane drinking culture when it opened in 2017. A totally bespoke experience, the cocktail waiter will ask what you usually drink and then assign the bartender to make something fine-tuned to your tastes.
It’s a joyous little novelty but also cleverly shifts the focus of the bar to its service, something the staff double down on with the way they walk you through the experience (or, say, offer a hot or cold towel on arrival).
The dapper open-air digs account for the rest of the charm. All that remains is to find it: look for the posters in the alleyway near the intersection of Elizabeth and Edward streets.
Tip: Go here… when you know what you like but don’t know what to drink.
Super Whatnot is all things to all comers, a laneway favourite where lawyers and accountants loosen their ties to mix it with transient hipsters and well-heeled foreign students.
It gives this CBD laneway joint a welcoming, inclusive feel, its award-winning interleaved design meaning the intimacy keeps up even when things get a little gnarly.
Try hitting it on a Friday night after dinner, when the in-house DJ turns up the soul music and hip-hop and the crowd starts to get its groove on in front of the bar.
Tip: Go here… if you like a little music with your cocktail.
Brisbane tends to dedicate its riverside to restaurants rather than bars, so you have to know where to look to find decent watering holes with water views. One of the best is Bar Alto, downstream from the city.
This is all about location: looking out from the first-floor deck at the Brisbane Powerhouse arts centre towards well-heeled Hawthorne, it’s the perfect spot for a breezy afternoon of exceptional wines and beer, and maybe a bar snack or two.
If you like the drinks, stay for dinner — Bar Alto’s restaurant is a quiet contender for the best Italian in town.
Tip: Take a stroll through the adjacent New Farm Park — a favourite greenway among Brisbane locals.
Seymour’s Cocktails and Oysters
Jamie Webb is a local hero in Brisbane’s inner-west, owning or co-owning a bunch of brilliant venues, including the cosy Hope & Anchor and boot-scooting Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall.
Seymour’s Cocktails & Oysters is arguably his best, though: a hidden, booth-lined paean to the restaurants and red light districts of early 1900s New Orleans.
There’s an eclectic wine list and a rotating beer selection if you want to keep things easy, but these barkeeps are some of the best in town — lean on their knowledge for a bespoke whisky cocktail or two.
Tip: Duck next door to dance the night away at Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall.
Hidden behind an unassuming orange door in Fortitude Valley you’ll find one of Brisbane’s best cocktail bars.
Savile Row is a pocket wonder of a place, five different levels twisting themselves around a moodily lit central bar of darkened wood and brass. An enormous chandelier takes pride of place, illuminating a back bar stacked with more than 750 different exotic spirits.
If your dinner plans took you to West End, try Savile Row’s sister venue, Cobbler; hidden behind a velvet curtain on Browning Street, its back bar boasts more than 400 whiskies.
Tip: While in the area… try The Bowery, just across Ann Street; or duck around the corner to Barbara, a small bar with a very big sound system.
Walking through the door at The End is to be walloped in the face by West End’s counter-culture credentials. It would almost be intimidating, except you quickly realise this is less a cool-kid destination and more a hopping local for the many share houses in the surrounding area.
Formerly Trash Video, a much-loved VHS store, The End wears its history on its sleeve with murals of tapes painted around the bar and a few of the real thing lying around. A rotating beer offering and the unfussy cocktail list keeping the good times rolling well into the night.
Where to sit? At the bar with the natives is best.
Tip: Go here… when you’re in town on your own.
Other star venues come and go on Brisbane’s busy cocktail scene but for six years now the award-winning Canvas has consistently excelled with fabulous drinks lists served in a warm, homely space. It’s maybe because owners Dan Rodriguez and Bodie Schofield do much of the work themselves, leading a team that’s a few degrees friendlier than your average beard-and-bracers barkeep.
If nothing else, it’s an excuse to visit Woolloongabba’s famous antiques precinct. The shops full of violins and dusty chesterfields may have moved on, but this is one of the few places in Brisbane where a huge block of heritage buildings remains largely untouched, the old shopfronts now occupied by a line of excellent restaurants and bars.
Rodriguez and Schofield also own Jack Rabbits across the road — it requires a little sleuthing to find the entrance but is well worth it once you do.
Tip: Hit up 1889 Enoteca for authentic provincial Italian, or Detour for chef Damon Amos’s exotic gastronomy.
La Lune Wine Co
Star chef Paul McGivern might be better known for The Wolfe in East Brisbane but La Lune Wine Co is his current pride and joy.
Inspired by his frequent visits to Burgandy, this slick Fish Lane hideaway boasts more than 120 wines, most imported from Europe or local drops made in an old world style. There’s even a rotating list of wines available by Coravin, which allows staff to pour from their more expensive bottles without removing the cork.
Where to sit? At the bar is best, so you can order plates of lamb saddle and pork cheek, and chat to the barkeep about what you might drink next.
Tip: Grab a cleansing ale at Saccharomyces Beer Cafe or some gelato at Gelato Messina.
Located just a stone’s throw from Brisbane’s highfalutin James Street precinct, Gerard’s Bar splits the difference between the area’s excellent restaurants and the rambunctious Valley entertainment precinct beyond. Stop here for cocktails and a deceptively fine wine list served al fresco to tables of Brisbane’s bright young things.
Gerard’s backs up its drinks offering with a surprisingly fine food menu (or perhaps not so surprising, given its neighbouring sister venue, Gerard’s Bistro, is one of the best restaurants around), including a wagyu beef burger that might just be the best in town.
Tip: Go here… after hitting one of James Street’s classy eateries.
Can’t pull an all-nighter and need somewhere to rest your head for the night? Sort your accommodation here.
If you’ve just flown in the for the weekend, this handy guide will help you get the most out of your 48 hours.
What’s your favourite Brisbane bar?
*This post was first published in 2012 and updated in May 2018.