This is the way to do small bar drinking in Perth


Perth, you are a fine drinking town. Those big skies above you haven’t ever really frowned on us when we’ve visited, your weather is to be envied — kind of like Sydney, but without the rain, and the whole “we’re so Sydney thing”. You’ve got your little pieces of laneway magic happening; there’s culture in them there lanes, yet you’re not Melbourne so you don’t tell us about it all the time. You’ve got an abundance of local craft brewing and spirits and wine the likes of which other capital cities only have a pieces of. You’ve got a great set of bartenders leading some pretty distinctive small bars, too. Why are you so far away from us eastern state folk?

We’ve become more and more enamoured of Perth with each trip, and with every month there’s new bars opening (and whole lot more reason to visit). In October we visited each of the bars on the Small Bar Association of WA’s Small Bar of the Year finalists list, and we liked what we found. Here’s eleven good reasons to get some drinking done in our most western of cities.


101 St Georges Terrace, Perth


One of the pioneering Perth small bars, Helvetica has been dishing up great drinks since it opened in a hard to find laneway in the CBD back in 2009. Long known for its whisky selection, you’ll also find a great selection of bottled boutique brews in their fridges.


Bar Lafayette
Brookfield Place, 125 St Georges Terrace, Perth

In Brookfield Place in the Perth CBD, there’s a number of places where a world-weary Perth person (are they Perthites? Perthians, perhaps?) can get a good drink. There’s the recent opening of Angel’s Cut, should you want some rum in your rumhole; there’s Bobeche if absinthe and French stuff is more your thing; you could head to Print Hall and eat like a king (with a wine list to match); or you could hit up one of two small bars: Choo Choo’s (which we’ll get to later), and Bar Lafayette.

Not only do they have steak tartare on the bar menu (which you just don’t see enough of), they’ve got a strong cocktail list with an emphasis on classics and signature serves. Of particular interest to the bartendery type is their selection of barrel aged and bottled booze: you can sip on a barrel aged Vieux Carre, or buy one of their bottled cocktails (they’ve got five of them) like the Artillery Punch.

Choo Choo’s
Brookfield Place, 125 St Georges Terrace

Once you’re done at Bar Lafayette (but probably before you’ve smashed a bottled cocktail to yourself), you can take the big 20 second walk to Choo Choo’s. Named for one of the owners, Mike ‘Choo Choo’ de Vos, this bar has got all the unique brews you need and the guys know their way around jigger and shaker, with classics (or twists on them) done right. Plus if you sit at the bar you’ll be smelling popcorn all night — grab yourself some and enjoy the banter.


566 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley

Don’t let the dining tables at the front fool you into thinking this is a restaurant; in our experience, the best time to be had is at the back of the split level room where the bar is at (of course). They’ve got a tidy little outdoor courtyard that begins to hum in the late afternoon with a crowd of people wanting their cider, beer, wine, cocktails — actually, Clarences does it all well. They’ve got some great eats too, and some warm hospitality brings it all together.

Ezra Pound
189 William Street Arcade, Northbridge

This stripped back laneway bar in Northbridge has a devoted legion of fans, some very nice outdoor seating, and bartenders just as handy with the cocktail shaker as they are at popping the tops on the numerous bottles of Melbourne Bitter heading over the bar.

It’s that loyal patronage that got Ezra Pound over the line in the 2013 edition of the Small Bar Awards as the People’s Choice Small Bar of the Year, and has seen them open up new bar (and another finalist) Old Faithful.

Five Bar
560 Beaufort Street, Mount Lawley

Five Bar opened in 2011, and in that time has been adding to its décor and what it offers to punters. And what it offers is pretty damn good — they did take out the Critic’s Choice Award for WA Small Bar of the Year this year.

The focus at Five is on the beer, and the focus of the beer is often local. They’ve been known to brew a batch or two with local craft brewers, and, if you follow their Facebook page, there’s a beer event every other day. The team — and general manager Andy McIntyre — have also opened up a new venue, Lot Twenty, in Northbridge.


Mechanics Institute
222 William Street, Northbridge

The team from Mechanics Institute took out the WA Small Bar of the Year award in 2013, thanks largely to the appeal of their mix of laidback attitude and top notch drinks. Their cocktail list is affixed to the wall and changes every day or so, rotating through classics. There’s one constant though, and that’s the Billy Bob’s Ruckus Juice.


Old Faithful
86 King Street, Perth

From the guys behind the also-nominated Ezra Pound, Old Faithful is all about American BBQ — and by that we mean meats smoked for up to 36 hours — and beer, and cocktails. You make your meat selection at the back of the bar, take your perch at one of several communal tables in the big, red-bricked room, and dig in sans cutlery, as they do in America’s south.

The idea is proving popular, by the way: Old Faithful took out the popularly voted New Small Bar of the Year award.


Swallow Bar
198 Whatley Crescent, Maylands

This little — and we mean little — neighbourhood bar had a big win at the WA Small Bar of the Year awards, taking out this year’s People’s Choice prize.

We can see why: it’s an intimate bar, with a handy if brief cocktail list, but it’s the wine list and cheeses that makes us wish this was our local.


The Classroom
1/ 356 Charles Street, North Perth

These guys are Perth’s primary exponents of the dark arts of molecular/avant-garde/whatever we’re calling it these days, and the sciencey approach to drinks suits the “mischief with bunsen burners up the back in the Science lab” classroom vibe. The bartenders — they call them teachers, here — are pretty handy with their classic cocktails, too, but if you spend even five minutes at the bar you’ll see a number of the LN2 Espresso Martinis (fresh pressed Darkstar espresso, The Classroom’s espresso mix, liquid nitrogen, mascarpone sherry foam and shaved chocolate) going over the stick. Maybe that liquid nitrogen smoke is a fond reminder of younger days spent skipping class and puffing darts behind the school toilets.


Varnish on King
75 King Street, Perth

At the Bartender Magazine Australian Bar Awards last September, Varnish on King took out the title of Small Bar of the Year. This whiskey (and by that we mean American whiskey) bar-cum-eatery blurs the lines between eating and drinking. The vibe here is all bar (weekend nights see a queue out the door and a busy good-looking crowd inside) but the food is as much a part of the equation. Add in some very fine hospitality, and a considered, complete fitout, and you’ve got yourself Varnish on King.

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