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World’s Best Bars 2013: Australasia

Classy joints flourish in Australia’s cocktail cities Melbourne and Sydney, while New Zealand’s Christchurch bounces back. Paul Wootton reports

Sydney still leads our list of Australasia’s Best Bars 2013, with this underground speakeasy taking top spot

For years, Melbourne held the bragging rights when it came to Australia’s food and beverage scene, with many of the city’s independent cocktail bars the equal of those in London or New York.

The last 18 months, though, have belonged to Sydney, as established groups such as Merivale and Keystone, together with some influential independents, unveiled a string of classy venues.

That trend looks set to continue in 2013, with award-winning Sydney operators Anton Forte and Jason Scott opening Frankie’s Pizza in December 2012 and Diageo World Class winner Tim Philips launching his first bar, Bulletin Place.

For sheer dynamism and innovation, New Zealand’s bar culture can’t compete with Australia’s, but in the wake of the February 2011 earthquake, Christchurch is currently busy breathing new life into its cocktail scene.

Browse through our bars to watch in Australasia by clicking the page numbers below.

For the full list of all the predictions in our World’s Best Bars 2013 feature, click here.

AUSTRALASIA BAR TO WATCH 2013: Palmer & Co., Sydney, Australia

Palmer & Co., the latest offering from Sydney operator Merivale, is like a speakeasy-style bar on steroids. Waitresses dressed as flappers? Check. Jazz band playing in the corner? Check. Lots of top hats in display cabinets? Check.

The fit-out alone is rumoured to have cost A$5m and, looking around, you can well believe it. There’s enough Prohibition paraphernalia to fill a museum – black-and-white pictures of bootleggers, vintage bar equipment, an old punch bag. It’s a truly beautiful space, suitably hidden underground, the vaulted brick ceiling, wooden beams and candlelight creating an alluring den of liquid iniquity.

Bartenders were hand-picked from around the globe for this project; they mix drinks like Fire & Brimstone, a blend of mezcal, Earl Grey-infused Cointreau and home-made chilli/orange bitters; or Barrelled Ernest, an oak-aged variant of the Hemingway Daiquiri. And they serve them until five in the morning. These are serious drinks, but a key part of Palmer & Co.’s success is that, combined with professional service and quality produce, there’s a sense of fun that permeates proceedings.

House rules, for example, are a touch more light-hearted than those found in some other Prohibition-style bars: “Any beverages consumed on the premises must leave with the patrons or, after a brief period of ageing, deposited in the white porcelain receptacles available in the bathrooms,” reads the menu. So what if it lacks the grit and authenticity of a genuine speakeasy? To Sydney’s affluent young, Palmer & Co.’s glamorous, sensual take on the theme is right up their street. Sure, it’s very theatrical but boy, what a show!

Bulletin Place, Sydney, Australia

Diageo World Class winner and bartender extraordinaire Tim Philips will open his first bar in late December 2012 or early January next year. Located in Circular Quay, a stone’s throw from the Opera House, Bulletin Place won’t be themed in any way, says Philips. Just expect sensational drinks.

Fourth Wall, Brisbane, Australia

Brisbane industry stalwarts Chris Denman and Stevie Waite recently opened their own bar, Fourth Wall, located in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, and so-named because its front wall is entirely made of glass. Cider Sundays, barrel-aged cocktails and a reputation for fun – Fourth Wall’s status will soar in 2013.

Little Blood, Melbourne, Australia

Tequila is arguably the hottest spirit among discerning Australian tipplers right now and Little Blood (or Sangrita, if you’re Mexican) reflects that trend. Stocking more than 70 Tequilas, many not normally available in Australia, it’s run by the kick-ass team from the award-winning Kodiak Club below it.

The Morrison Oyster Bar & Grill, Sydney, Australia

On the site of the old Brooklyn Hotel, The Morrison, which opened in October, offers a sophisticated, polished interpretation of a New York-style brasserie and bar, featuring local craft beers, rare gins and Bourbons, as well as 20 varieties of oyster and cuts of meat cooked over coals.

Revival Bar, Christchurch, New Zealand

The aptly-named Revival Bar embodies the defiant character of Christchurch locals determined to rebuild their city after the earthquake of 2011. Like many new and reopened shops, bars and restaurants there, Revival makes use of a shipping container structure and uses recycled materials for décor and furnishings – suitcases and trunks have been turned into chairs. The bar offers live music, good cocktails and a life-affirming spirit.

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