Three Wolves: the little bar bringing classic cocktailing to Cairns

Story by Amy Spanton

When you talk about laneway bars in Australia, you think Melbourne, right? It was the original laneway bar town. It pioneered the laneway small bars while the rest of the country was still drinking Cosmos in soulless stainless steel megapubs. But, oh how we’ve changed. And we do bang on about the general awesomeness of small bars in these pages but let’s face it; small bars are great. And if you can hide them down a laneway, even better.

And it looks like we are definitely not the only ones who think so. Two Sydneysiders, Sam Kennis and Darren Barber left the Sydney bar scene and teamed up with Grant Buckham in far north Queensland. They did what no one before them has ever done in that city. They opened a small cocktail bar. And they hid it away from foot traffic off the main street. In a town famed for the popularity of the Woolshed or the monolithic mega bar Gilligan’s, they opened the city’s first small permanent laneway cocktail bar. And it’s great. Because while Gilligan’s has its place — yes, we all know it’s a favourite for Queensland cocktail comps and the like — there are many of us who like to sip an old fashioned in less backpacker-soaked surrounds.

Now before the folks up in Cairns get all fired up, yes, there is another laneway bar that opened a few months before Three Wolves (at a stretch you might call it a trend). Harvest, on Mulgrave Road, is an extension of the super popular meat-fuelled restaurant, Paddock Restaurant & Bar. Unlike Three Wolves though, this is a pop-up street food space, rather than a dedicated cocktail bar. But if you’re in town for just a couple of nights, these two spots should be top on your list.

Three Wolves opened back in September 2016 after 10 months renovating a small site (about 200sqm) into a cocktail bar that wouldn’t be out of place in Brisbane or Sydney. Head off the main drag of Abbot Street (in between a liquor store and a beautician) and you will see the red brick lane with the markings of the Three Wolves (a nod to the three owners). Inside, it’s low lighting, black tiles, exposed brick and a nice broad bar
with a tidy spirits selection. The dark walls feature paintings (one of the wolves in suits) which were commissioned by Cairns artist Caroline Mudge.

On the cocktail front, it’s a far cry from the Blue Lagoons being lapped up on The Esplanade. The boys have included a handful of originals alongside some classic twists. Highlights include the North of the Border, the wolf pack’s twist on the classic whiskey sour with bourbon and maple syrup, or the Smoke on the Water featuring rye whiskey and homemade cinnamon sugar syrup.

There is also an impressive spirits selection featuring a broad range of spirits from tequilas to bourbons. It may not rival the backbars of some of the country’s top cocktail bars but it’s notable in a town where Bundy was the only rum for decades. Beer and wine lovers are also catered for with more than 20 local and international beers on offer, as well as a smart selection of wines including the lovely Marcarini Roero Arneis from Piemonte, Italy.

To make the drinks last a little longer, there is an accessible American diner style menu featuring old faithfuls such as beef sliders, Three Wolves spicy chicken wings and cheesy shoestring fries.

So if you’re in town for a cocktail comp or just heading north to escape the winter chill, Cairns is more than just a haven for backpackers, casinos and mega nightclubs. You can now sidle up to a bar and sip on a negroni after a day at the reef. You might even meet Three Wolves’ award winning bartender Jacob Cohen, who (at the time of going to press) had just won the national Southern Comfort Travelling Tales competition.