The 10 Most Influential Aussie Bars

Who made the Top Ten List?
This story was featured in Bartender’s December issue.

A look At The Bars That Have Changed The Face of The Australian Bar Scene In The Last Decade
By David Spanton

People always ask me what are the best bars in the country and to be honest I find it one of the hardest questions to answer. A good bar, or a bar that you want to go to is mostly about personal taste and what might rock my boat could be completely distasteful to someone else. One question I feel a little better answering is what venues have had the most impact and influence on our industry over the past decade. I would imagine that those of you reading this that have been in the game for a while would agree that there are a handful of people and venues that have had a big impact on setting trends and raising the bar. Keep in mind that a bar is nothing without the people behind it and so this list is a nod to the efforts of a handful of people and their quality staff who have built bars with staying power.

So without further ado here is my Top 10 Most Influential Australian bars (minimum 2 years trading required) that I hope will create some debate.

The Gin Palace, Melbourne
10 Russell Pl, Melbourne


The Gin Palace first opened their doors in 1997 and instantly became a Melbourne institution. This bar embodies all that is Melbourne and has had a massive influence around Australia. It’s beauty lies in its quirky cool name, cosy bar design, gin appreciation (well before it was cool) and of course customer service that for many years was led by the fabulous owner and host Mr Vernon Chalker.

“Gin Palace has been successful because we have never deviated from our original vision,” says Vernon of his flagship operation. “Every year we find some people tire of it but there always new young people to discover the magic of good, polite service and a trained bar staff.  Also a well stocked, growing and changing bar is an attraction. In the end, a mood for seduction.”

Der Raum, Melbourne
438 Church St, Richmond

Since it was established in 2001 this hole-in-the-wall bar has been at the pinnacle of cocktail culture in this country. Their avant-garde approach to drinking developed by founder Matt Bax has created a loyal following from bartenders around the world and their ‘take no short cuts’ approach with ingredients always guarantees their drinks are of the highest possible quality. In my humble opinion this is has to be the most innovative cocktail bar Australia has ever produced.

Of their success, owner Matt Bax says: “there are no tricks really, just lots and lots of hard work. We spend months and months of time brainstorming, testing and re-testing. We invest heavily in equipment and work very closely with some of the world’s leading chefs.”

Luxe Bar, Perth
446 Beaufort St, Mt Lawley

This place makes the list as it has been the shining light in Western Australia for most of the past decade. Any bartender worth their salt from our most western state has been lucky enough to work the bar. Geoff Hayward and his partners pushed Perth nightlife ahead in leaps and bounds when they launched Luxe back in 2001 creating a bar with class and a dedication to quality drinks and service. Today, new owners and former staff members Andy Freeman and Michelle Mok have revamped the bar to bring it back to its former glory while Geoff moved on to create another hit down the road with the Brisbane Hotel.

“The sustained success of Luxe Bar would have to be down to the clear vision that was set-out on day one by Geoff Hayward,” says current owner, Andy Freeman. “We still practice that today, and it’s developed some of the country’s strongest bartending talent including Georgia McDonnell-Adams, Sam Astbury, Jared Plummer, Andy MacIntyre and James Spencer, to name a few!”

Lotus, Sydney
22 Challis Ave, Potts Point

In 2002, Justin Hemmes made his first foray into small bars separate from their big city hotels. They opened the restaurant/bar as the Merivale Group owned the Potts Point building but all previous tenants failed to capture the local’s attention. Without a stable tenant, I’m sure Justin got sick and tired of the wasted potential and with the help of leading bartender Marco Faraone opened the Lotus Restaurant & Cocktail bar. Marco was promoting classic cocktails, quality ice and mixers when most of the trade were still getting excited about flavoured vodka. This helped set the stage for a bar that changed the way many bartenders wrote cocktail lists and served drinks. This extremely intimate bar (you need to go outside to change your mind kind of intimate) has continued to influence and has been lucky enough over the years to have a great line up of bartenders from Alexx Swainston to current resident Petr Devoracek to continue the success.

The Bayswater Brassiere, Sydney
32 Bayswater Rd, Kings Cross

This is the only bar on my list that is regrettably no longer open. I don’t want to get started again on why this is the case as you can see what I think if you have read the past few issues and of course, our website. Anyway, this is a no-brainer addition to my list as I can’t think of a bar that has had more influence on cocktail culture in Sydney. Renowned around the world as a ‘must-visit’ bar when coming Down Under, the ‘Bayz’ was a breeding ground for the best bartenders and one of the few establishments that had been around the block a few times. They would have celebrated their 30th birthday next year had they remained open. A crying shame.

Cookie, Melbourne
1/252 Swanston St, Melbourne

This place shows no signs of slowing down since opening in 2004 and today is still one of Melbourne’s busiest and best bars. The original name for this place was “Kooky” and if you ask me that pretty much says it all – from their weird but wonderful combination of Thai food with a kind of Belgium beer cafe feel and the quirky design seen though the venue. This place might be big but they take their drinks very seriously and over the years they have shown the industry that you don’t have to be a small bar to do great drinks and thinking outside the norm in terms of your bar’s image can pay dividends.

The Bowery, Brisbane
676 Ann St, Fortitude Valley

In my opinion The Bowery’s impact, especially on the Queensland bar scene, has been very similar to what Luxe Bar has achieved in Perth. In 2003 the Bowery dramatically raised the bar up north and is still considered one of Brisbane’s, indeed the country’s, finest cocktail bars. This little oasis within the hectic surroundings of Fortitude Valley has trained many of the best Queensland bartenders and most importantly made big ground in helping educate locals on drinking better and understanding the wonderful world of cocktails.

Co-Owner Stephanie Cantrell says: “We created an environment where those passionate about bartending could flourish and be supported and make a career for themselves. We try to have a strong focus on customer service, and no matter how busy, we aim to put out the best drink possible at all times.”

Cafe Pacifico, Sydney
95 Riley St, East Sydney

This place should be getting subsidised by the Mexican government as no one else in Australia has done more for the category of Tequila since Cafe Pacifico opened in 1997. There are also few people with as much passion for our great industry as the owner Phil Bayly. Phil’s dedication to Tequila education has had a massive influence on drinks lists and bartenders around the country and highlights to me how much one bar can help our industry when given enough time.

Of his purpose for Café Pacifico, Phil says it’s about: “Making something which feels real and genuine but is an escape from the everyday reality, something affordable, something simple and most of all fun.”

Hemmesphere @ Establishment, Sydney
252 George St, Sydney CBD

This landmark cocktail lounge is on the fourth floor of the Establishment Hotel, a venue that absolutely changed the face of the hospitality industry in this country when it opened in 2000. This innovative drinking, dining and accommodation destination has in my opinion been the most influential hotel in Australia for the past decade and only with the launch of their new even bigger and more extravagant Ivy Hotel complex down the street has the Establishment been topped in the luxury stakes. The Hemmesphere cocktail lounge continues today to produce great drinks and there is no question it gave Sydney a hotel that rivalled the best in the world.

“Hemmesphere is timeless and we are as passionate today about the product and experience as we were 10 years ago when we opened,” says owner Justin Hemmes.

The Supper Club, Melbourne
1st/161 Spring St
03 9654 6300

Now I have to admit that I have never found their mixed drinks to be that great but I guess the only time I have visited this place is after 2am and to be honest a good red wine or rum is what’s in order.  Much like the Gin Palace the Supper Club is a Melbourne institution and a must-visit destination. Simply put, it’s a bar that has been loved by so many for so long that it has to be on my list. Nothing beats drinking with friends at 3am while eating party pies and sipping nice rum. God love Melbourne!

“Always open, high quality product and we love all our customers equally. (Oh! Let’s not forget the party pies that eat beautifully with a glass of red burgundy),” says owner Con Christopoulos.

Honourable Mentions

  • Black Pearl, Melbourne
  • The Gazebo Wine Garden, Sydney
  • The Press Club, Brisbane
  • Longrain Bar, Sydney
  • Ivy, Sydney

  1. Hi There,

    RE: Cookie. The original name was KooKoo but a KoKo restaurant at Crown complained that the name was too similar to theirs. It is possible to see on the back wall where they posted up the change.


    Michelle Matthews,
    Deck Of Secrets

  2. Hey,

    your list is great, thanks for the information.
    I found a nice list on the internet, with almost every Sydney Bars
    Maybe it could be interessting for you.


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