Friday Night Bites: A fresh look at Canberra’s Bar Scene
View O’Neill’s of Dickson, 30 Woolley St in a larger map
Talk of the Capital’s Centenary has renewed arguments about how boring a ‘planned city’ is in theory. I often hear people my own age complaining about the city’s nightlife, and how it does not compare to some of the other big cities dotting the East coast. Yes, okay, we don’t live in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane. I get it; nightlife on school nights leaves A LOT to the imagination. But this city might have more to offer than you think.
While small, Australia’s capital is teaming with day and nightlife. Canberra has always boasted a vibrant hospitality scene, having the highest ratio of cafes and restaurants to population in the nation. New places are popping up all through central and North Canberra, more spots offering tapas, degustation and latte art than ever. But no matter where you live, it’s easy to get caught in a stale routine of the same bars, lounges and clubs, the same crowds and the same drinks.
It’s time to explore the Canberra CBD, find some new hidden gems and perhaps blow the dust off a few places you had forgotten existed.
The plan is to visit five little known places, old and new, around the Dickson and Braddon area in an attempt to re-discover the city.
I will be matching each bar with a beverage that epitomizes the scene, and get you trying a few new drinks you might not have expected too.
30 Woolley St, Dickson
It’s 6pm Friday, so we’re starting off chilled at a nice pub on the corner of Woolley in Dickson. O’Neill’s is the quintessential Anglo-Celtic Australian pub. It’s like an Irish pub, but cleaner, more outside seating, and more hipsters.
The Bar is actually really cool. Located on a happening, but not too happening (Sub-Urban), corner of Dickson, this bar’s got taps running the length of it, and helpful staff to match. The beauty of a corner spot like this is opportunity to cover two of the four walls with windows, and facing West means from 3-7pm the main room is drowning in beautiful natural light.
My two comrades for the night and I hit the front patio to people watch and soak up the last of the sun for the day. Beers are fairly cheap, between $5.50-8.50 depending on the drop, and schooner or pint. The atmosphere’s not too bad, a great night starter, and the after work crowd this Friday was quite good, but could defiantly use some music. There’s something unnerving about silence at a bar.
I am giving this place three and a half Shamrocks out of five!
Get ex’cidered: Bulmer’s pear cider (with ice), an almost Irish drink for an almost Irish pub! ……………………………………………………$5.50
6/26 Challis St, Dickson
Tapas bar, hey? If it looks like a club, sounds like a club and smells like a club…it’s a club.
Got to Hostage at around 8pm and was invited into the establishment by the jarring lyrics of Lil’ Wayne’s Bitches Love Me. And to borrow the words of Lil’ Wayne himself, I was hatein’.
Fairly new (September 2012), this place is tight tee shirts, tacky r’n’b baselines and colorful foot stools that look they belong in Academy or ICBM. A real tapas bar would be seeing it’s peak around 10.30pm, the guy behind the bar told my amigos and I that the place wouldn’t be pumping until 11 or 12…so yeah, it’s not a tapas bar.
Now admittedly, this is the type of club scene that I don’t get into, so perhaps I need to cut the place a break.
The location is quite good, with a garden portion to the establishment. Bench seating surrounds some greenery in a quiet Dickson courtyard. However whatever vibe this might have created is shattered by neon blue light fixtures above the bar and jet black walls to provide depth of scenery for inebriated patrons.
The only thing I liked about this place is its proximity to other possible venues.
It really wasn’t my scene. One and a half ‘Jersey Shore Characters’ out of five.
Trust the Captain: Captain Morgan rum & coke w/lime; drink fast to leave fast…………………………..…………………………..……………$7.00
Elimatta & Batman St, Braddon
9:30pm by this stage, and let me tell you, this place is freakin’ beautiful! The bar itself is in the outside seating area of Sage Restaurant, an institution in the sophisticated wine scene in Canberra.
Housed inside a heritage listed building from the 1920’s, with an outdoor seating area surrounded by flourishing gardens, it looks like something out of Pride and Prejudice! All the furniture is dark stained wood, and some funky beer keg stools add a relaxed feel to break the bourgeois mood of the bar. Fairy lights fill the trees, and a heater glows warmth in the corner (although I refuse to sit beneath heaters until April, purely on principle).
As you would expect, this place is a little more up market. But I assure you we are at the economic peak of the evening. Service is what you would come to expect from a bar connected to one of the most awarded establishments in Canberra.
As an addition, the bar is located on Batman Street…needless to say my colleagues and I were quoting Bane before our drinks arrived. While the beers are exotic, the extensive cocktail list is where it’s at. All made with fresh ingredients, and on a rotating seasonal menu, these people known what they are doing behind a cocktail muddler.
Soft music and lightening sets the temperament, although as a fourth year uni student I am only staying around for one drink.
Four “Mr. Darcy’s” out of five.
8 Lonsdale St, Braddon
Often when I find myself out on the town I play a little game called “waiting-for-the-drunk-teens-to-finish-with-the-pool-table”. It’s a famous waiting game in pubs around the city, coins sitting on the edge of the table, like a line of men about to jump… But not here! Civic pub is fitted out with 8 pool tables, allowing people to pop pockets till they drop.
The place received a face-lift a couple of years ago, which I am told took the soiled feel away from the bar. The low lighting in the main room helps, and the new red carpet gives a great homey feel. The overhaul means there is now a large bistro on site for some great counter meals, as well as modern Australian two course dinners.
All your standard Australian bitter’s on tap. But remember, we are trying to get out of the rut. Keep it real and try a mix of beer and cider at this place. I find Cooper’s goes well with a cider, the thicker flavour’s of the pale ale are complimented well by the light sparkling sweetness.
The lads and I Iot straight into a game of pool, no suicidal coins. And to spice things up, pool drinking game!
Three and a half snooker balls out of five.
32 Mort Street Braddon
We arrived in this hip Braddon spot around 11:25pm. The night is young and Knightsbridge is one happening bar.
The walls are covered in retro-style paste up artworks, strings of fairy lights and antiques from the Adam’s family. The place seems to work hard to be cool…and is successful!
Guys and girls are partying behind the bar to smooth indie-house, serving serious cocktails with the leisurely attitude of high schoolers. This time at night means a dance floor has formed, although small (like the whole place really), it has some wild style to it. When you get too hot drop into the outside area around the back, where funky ally art adds to the Melbourne feel of the whole place.
The menu is great, covered in cocktails, the classical, twists on the classics and fresh original pieces. I have to say, stick to the gins in this place. The tavern stocks Martin Miller’s as a basic (unheard of), and most of the cocktails lean towards the Tanqueray and Hendrick’s end of the scale.
This place is great, and costs pretty much whatever you are prepared to spend. Cans of KB start at 5.50$ (class!), most cocktails $12-16, and some high end stuff about as old as I am for $23-30. Choose your poison.
This trendy, ally, hole in the wall gets 4 fixed gear bikes out of five.
Ginny-gin-gin: Tom Collins w/Martin Miller’s Gin…. I can’t stop saying gin.
All I can say is: what a finish to great night! Four bars I have never visited before, one oldie-but-goodie and a detour with Sméagol on the way to Mordor. I could not have had a better time, and I hope this prompts any Canberra-haters to hit the town with some friends of your own and see what you think of my spots, and discover something new for yourself!
But seriously, does All Saints Bar exist?