A false fireplace has to be hauled aside on its hinges to reveal The Barlow Room’s entrance, one of Adelaide’s most surprising small bars. Styled like a basement speakeasy, with sepia-coloured walls and period furnishings, it’s tucked beneath Lindes Lane (off Rundle Mall), another of the city’s burgeoning network of more than 70 boutique drinking houses.
Look carefully behind closed doors in Adelaide’s city laneways and you’ll find many outstanding but discreetly and discretely concealed bars. Mr Goodbar in Union St has only six stools in a compact tiled foyer, but a staircase leads to a long attic lined with comfortable couches and busy mixologists shaking cocktails. The Thrift Shop, in Waymouth Place, has transformed a former storage bunker behind the Ambassadors Hotel into a breezy retro lounge. Bedecked in vintage bric-a-brac, it serves a sharp quandong gin (made by Kangaroo Island Spirits) within a drinks list comprising only Australian-made spirits.
This scene has emerged as a consequence of new small bar licences introduced in 2013. Rob Dinnen was a key entrepreneur who fought hard for this change after returning to Adelaide in 2012 from northern Spain, determined to create an authentic pintxos bar. His idea of presenting food and music in a wine bar fell outside existing licences, although it coincided with the State Government and Adelaide City Council both wanting to inject vibrancy, and attract more residents to inner city apartments. Subsequent changes to licencing legislation resulted in Dinnen and partners opening Udaberri in Leigh St.
Modelled on San Sebastian’s dark and moody pintxos bars, Udaberri’s open rafters and hanging bulbs create an appropriate atmosphere to enjoy sardines or jamon in the company of smart Spanish, Portuguese, and local wines.
It remains a key attraction on Leigh Street, which is now nested with small bars and triggered a transformation of neighbouring laneway Peel St—which has its own curious cluster of idiosyncratic venues including Chihuahua, a mad Mexican tequila bar, and Maybe Mae, a dark basement den with its entrance door disguised within a wood-panel wall.
Clever Little Tailor emerged as Peel St’s polished sophisticate, making serious cocktails with a dash of flair. Its owners were inspired to create a second bar in Leigh St with a very different personality by transforming a former bin service laneway into a stylish pair of narrow log cabins. The resulting Pink Moon Saloon was crowned Australian Gourmet Traveller’’s 2016 Bar of the Year, thanks to its lively mix of classy cocktails and delicious food from its wood-smoked oven.
The influence of these successful enterprises has spread across the city. La Buvette Drinkery in Gresham St embraces the classic feel of a small Paris café/bar, with an extensive range of apertifs, cocktails, and French wines offered beside exciting new styles from cutting-edge SA winemakers. Proof Wine Bar, located in a laneway that flanks Press Food + Wine eatery, is an enduring pioneer of the new bar movement, noted for its inventive cocktails and carefully curated wine list.
The Henry Austin, taking over the space that previously housed Chesser Cellar, promotes the gentrified romance of old Adelaide with its clubby dark wood panels, although it enthusiastically embraces on-trend drinks and dining options. It will also serve as a late-night cabaret and jazz venue during the 2017 Adelaide Fringe.
The city’s East End has tapped into the thirst for new bar options. Head upstairs from Rundle St to Brklyn to sample a hip list of craft beer, and perhaps get groomed by a barber located on-premise. Nearby Vardon St has a cosmopolitan European feel with pavement table settings outside sophisticated wine bars Mother Vine and The Tasting Room (contained within East End Cellars bottle shop).
There’s a big party vibe surrounding buzzy new hotspot Superfish in Grenfell St. The outdoor courtyard flanking grungy band pub The Crown & Anchor was previously styled as Little Miss Mexico, then Crab Shack, and is now dressed in fresh party colours and takes its food cues from South America’s west coast, with smoky slow-cooked skewered meats and Chilean street favourites such as Churrasco a lo Pobre (a spin on a beef and egg burger). Similar late-night revelry can be found at rowdy hangout Sunny’s Pizza (17 Solomon St), where craft brews, savvy wine, and great Naples-style pizza are served until 2am.
Finish your night up on the roof. The Gallery in Waymouth St was the city’s first rooftop bar, notable for its living wall of plants, but you can also sit among stone gargoyles atop the 1930s-styled Mayfair Hotel, ordering from a smart list of cocktails and champagnes in the Hennessy Lounge. Nearby, 2KW’s rooftop setting with stylish private cabanas suggests New York City or Istanbul, but the vista from its vantage point on the corner of King William St and North Tce—a panorama stretching from the sea to the Adelaide Hills, taking in Adelaide Oval and illuminated cathedral spires at night— is unmistakably Adelaide.
All photos via the establishments’ Facebook pages.