Frog’s Hollow Saloon, Brisbane City: Pete Hollands, Nick Winter and Darwin-based bar operator David Robinson took a bit of a gamble when they opened 60-seater whisky and cocktail bar Frog’s Hollow Saloon in a quieter pocked of The City, but there’s no doubt it paid off massively. Located in the John Reid & Nephews building on Charlotte Street (with a warm aesthetic comprised of heritage brick and recycled timber), Frog’s Hollow Saloon succeeds thanks to its blend of exceptional taste and top-tier talent. Crowds jostle for space along the 12-m bar to place an order from Frog’s Hollow’s drinks list, which spotlights independent labelling, particularly in the realm of whisky, with 320 labels listed alongside 53 gins, a solid array of tequila and mezcal, and a growing selection of amaro. Even the snacks have been given special thought, with Jamie Fleming from Alba Bar & Deli helping conceive of a tight menu featuring nuts, jerky, devilled eggs, chicken soup, sardines and beef sandwiches. The bar has become a new fixture of Brisbane City’s resurgent nightlife – proof that if you build it, they will come.
Cordeaux Social Club, West End: Cordeaux Social Club is one of those places that doesn’t neatly conform to categorisation, which is a good thing. Yes, you can saunter in during the day for specialty coffee, spiced pork sausage, fried egg and red cheddar breakfast buns, and smoked-beef sandwiches with gruyere, pickles and gravy, but pop in during the evening and the concise-but-considered wine list and head chef Ben Chow’s snack-heavy food offering shines just as bright. You could visit just for a serve of whipped bottarga with rustic, hand-cut fries and leave happy, but then you’d miss out on the likes of the beef tartare with white anchovy and saltbush nori, and the succulent charcoal butter chicken. Back to the wine list quickly – with names like Hughes and Hughes, Mac Forbes, Eclectic Violet, Sven Joschke featuring, you can tell that there’s some savvy palates doing the picking.
Before + After, Brisbane City: Amaro is a drink that’s received an uptick in interest in recent years, with more and more bars and restaurants increasing the amounts of the bittersweet herbal liqueur seen on bar shelves. Before + After is the first Brisbane bar to make the sip a central focus of its offering. Owner George Curtis, a self-professed amaro lover, opened the 32-seater joint down an inner-city alleyway off George Street in late August, luring curious cocktail seekers into a moodily lit libation haven where common and ultra-rare amaro (including a Zucca Rabarbaro and a Bianco Lorenz from the 1940s) are distilled into cocktails like the Dutch Curry (Mr. Black coffee amaro, imbroglio, curry leaf and pineapple skin) and the Sage Advice (buttered Maker’s Mark, Amaro Averna, burnt sage and banana). Amaro even seeps into the food, which includes eats like shrimp rolls with fried garlic and Fernet mayo, grilled cheese with Sizzler bread, lillet-soaked pear and amaro mustard, and Maleny Food Co. vanilla gelato floating in Amaro Nonino.
NIKY, Newstead: Salt. Coffee Roaster’s Zac Lazerac decided to forgo sleep entirely this year, opening striking new wine bar NIKY right next door to his popular Newstead coffee spot. Like Salt, NIKY is all about quality – but instead of specialty grade caffeine, it’s natural wine. Zac, alongside partner Nicole Black, have opened NIKY as a way to further the cause of Australian natural vino. The shelf-like sconces in the pink-hued curved textured-concrete wall are filled with bottles of different sizes and colours, all filled with new age, natural and nectarous drops from the likes of Jauma, La Violetta, Delinquente Wine, LATTA Vino, Das Juice and ARC Wines. Guests can gather around the large Microcement-topped table in the centre and catch up animatedly over a glass or bottle, while nibbling on a rotating menu of snacks (like sourdough toast with figs, anchovies and salami, and kingfish crudo with nam jim, pickled cucumber and aleppo pepper) prepared by head chef Jianne Jeoung. It’s a striking addition to Brisbane’s ever-diversifying wine bar scene – and it might be one of the most fetching entrants on this list.
Stranded, Fortitude Valley: A cocktail bar for punks, a dive bar that grew up, a rock ‘n’ roll hub cut from the same cloth as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City – this is how Stranded is described to us when we first set foot inside earlier this year. Luke ‘Boo’ Johnston, Cat Clarke and Shane Chidgzey’s Fortitude Valley boozer, perched above street level on Winn Street, is not your average cocktail joint. The Zoo crew has established a place for the rockers, the moshers and the partiers to come pre or post gig, where they can unwind and sip on something of a higher standard than most. It’s welcoming to all comers, be they rebels and non-conformists, music lovers, cocktail connoisseurs or curious blow-ins, with a bar heavy on tequila and mezcal, a kitchen pumping out sensational pizzas and vinyl DJs spinning rare old-school 45s. Perhaps, most of all, Stranded is just a damn good bar.
South City Wine and Purple Palm, Woolloongabba: Yes, we know we’re technically cheating with the inclusion of two bars here, but seeing as they opened at the same time and are both run by the Talisman Grouo (the brains also behind Sasso Italiano and Casa Chow), we thought it would be best to pair them together. On one side of South City Square’s internal thoroughfare you have South City Wine, an evocation of the cosy caves à manger of France, complete with a classically elegant, Parisian-inspired aesthetic, shelves of wine housing almost 200 labels sourced from all over the world, and a menu featuring French eats like charcuterie and artisanal cheese, escargot à la Bourguignonne with garlic butter, venison tartare, and 300-g sirloin on the bone with frites and estragon butter. Purple Palm transports guests to Palm Springs, with a vibe that channels the glamorous desert oasis and its heaving hospitality scene. Spirits from Adelaide Hills-based 78 Degrees headline the back bar, filtering into a drinks list that boasts native ingredient-infused signature cocktails like the pineapple and passionfruit-imbued Golden Circle, the Better Than Your Average Negroni and the bloody Mary-inspired QLD Red Snapper. Can’t decide which one to try? Simply flip a coin – there’s no wrong choice when it comes to these two boozers.
Butler Wine Bar, South Brisbane: With the pastry game firmly in hand, the team behind Lune Croissanterie decided to make its first foray into nighttime trade. There’s not a croissant to be seen at Butler Wine Bar, but don’t worry – the team is bringing the same kind of exacting methodology to its post-dusk locale. What you will find is a low-lit Hogg & Lamb-designed space boasting mirrored surfaces and perforated Armourply timber, a killer wine list featuring new-wave makers such as Jilly Wines, Konpira Maru, Jauma, Mac Forbes and Ochota Barrels, and a range of small snacks and share-style dishes from head chef Jane Kim that boasts a sprinkling of Korean inflections. We’re still dreaming of Butler’s filo pastry tarts topped with mushrooms and the pork belly topped with gochujang and puffed buckwheat.
Superfly Disco, Fortitude Valley: Big bottles, booth service, bright lights, banging tunes – there’s a lot of B words that could be used to describe Superfly Disco, but perhaps the one that most succinctly summarises the nightclub is bold. The Drunken Monkey Group’s crown jewel is a high-end nightclub specialising in a throwback style of hospitality, with an interior that is as unique as it is vivid. The party spot features a custom light-up dance floor, a DJ booth installed in the front end of a Rolls Royce, surfaces mirrored like disco balls (plus, you know, lots of actual disco balls) and so much neon you could get away with wearing sunnies in the club. While memories of any party at Superfly is bound to be fuzzy around the edges, there’s definitely a truly memorable experience to be had in the venue’s hireable booths. Welcome shots, bottles of ultra-premium spirits and giant 6-litre bottles of champagne (all dispensed by your own booth attendant) mean that all you need to worry about is when to join the dance floor.
Adelita Wine Bar, Wynnum: The bayside boom saw Manly score a bunch of new eateries in 2021, and now the ripples have spread down the shore to Wynnum. Owner Chris Hollingsworth has brought a touch of the inner-city to the esplanade, assembling a venue that wouldn’t look out of place in Sydney or Melbourne. An emerald-green scheme envisioned by Clui Design cuts a striking figure amongst the charming suburbia, with alfresco seating a stools wrapping around the U-shaped bar offering a variety of perches to enjoy. Venue manager Cooper Lawton’s beverage list traverses new-wave Australian wines and out-of-the-box cocktails that play with sweet and savoury flavour profiles, while consulting chef Esca Khoo (Noma Australia, Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, Sepia, Brae, Longrain) has worked with head chef Noah Soowon to fashion a menu that champions sustainability and use of native ingredients. Come for snacks like kangaroo tartare with oyster cream and fermented crumpets with curried egg and spanner crab, stay for a serve of Basque wet rice with quail, peppers and morcilla.
Bar Francine, West End: This joyful wine bar opened just in time to make the list. Though it’s the most recent opening of the bunch, Bar Francine has wasted little time introducing itself to West End locals. Owners Adrienne Jory and Rick Gibson – who many may know already as the owners of meat-free Mexican joint El Planta – are channelling their infectiously positive personality into their neighbourhood haunt, which sits pretty on Vulture Street in an old milk bar. Antique furnishings and vintage decor give the space a homely lived-in feel – casual like your mate’s place, if your mate had a bar installed in their living room. In the kitchen, head chef Brad Cooper is turning out a Euro-leaning array of dishes that favour vegetables and seafood. Tuna bruschetta with piperade? We’ll take two, as well as a serve of the kohlrabi ‘minute steak’ with sauce grenobloise. For a wine pairing, we’ll turn to Chris Bancroft, who has devised a beverage program anchored by a 50-strong list of all-Australian, small-producer vino, which is backed by nostalgia-inducing cocktails and old-school tinnies.
Honourable mentions: As we said before, there were so many great bars that opened this year. Other worthy mentions include BrewDog’s new Fortitude Valley taproom, Scarborough Harbour Brewing Co., Wineology in The City, Bavay Distillery in Morningside and Stratton Bar & Kitchen in Newstead, QUIVR Bar in The Valley.
This article was written by James Frostick from The Weekend Edition.