by Jodi Panayotov
On cold winter nights, some cosy Brisbane bars are worth leaving home for:
The postage stamp sized lounge bar hidden unsigned in a suburban shopping strip comes into its own when temperatures drop. Much like being a guest in a retro living room in someone's home, with moose heads on the wall, table lamps and sunken couches, and a very well catered for guest at that. Fabulous cocktails, all your old fave songs on vinyl and the bee-hived hostesses will even bring you some takeaway fish'n'chips or Chinese from next door.
Black Bear Lodge
Up the narrow set of stairs that once led to the Troubador, a Twin Peaks style scene unfolds: red velvet curtained stage, exposed brick walls and an Oregon timber bar replete with characters. Add to this the staff who greet you like an old friend, great wine, Johnny Cash on the turntable and killer cocktails and you may never leave.
The Valley's home away from home, complete with white picket fence, washing line and cocktails in tea pots, this is the perfect place to retreat from the chilly mall in an armchair nook and settle in for an acoustic gig and a warming dose of Grandma's Lemonade or Apple Pie.
If you weren't a beer fan when you arrived you will be when you leave this North American style dive with its plastic soldiers, pianola, worn leather couches and beast head on the wall. Not only is Scratch bar a source of the most unique craft beers around they come carefully matched with cheese platters. And no need to leave for dinner, order in from next door's Thai restaurant and they'll deliver it and serve it in the bar. And for the non-convertible there's a small batch of wines and spirits on the menu.
Stunning stencil art, vintage furniture, premium wines and beers matched with rustic tapas and cocktails that are crafted, not stirred are but some of the charms of this small bar in the Woolloongabba antique precinct. Settle in to a leather arm chair with an absinthe fountain and a delectable Euro style mezze platter and forget that winter exists.
The hole in the wall in Brisbane's oldest laneway makes for a snug retreat when the winds whistle down the alley that was once a prison yard. Inside the gritty exposed brick space (an ex beauty school store room) with its drinking nooks and crannies, settle in with a boutique beer and some corn bread, a glass of old world wine and a creole po'boy sandwich, or a pre-prohibition cocktail with a Tijuana taco.
Mad Men fans, 1950s and 60's aficionados and anyone after a quiet sophisticated retreat will thrill to this Don Draper worthy drinking den tucked away above (and part of) the Crosstown Eating House. Moodily lit with booths, blinds and lots of wood panelling and serving up a splendid array of cocktails, beer and wine it makes a perfect spot for drinks pre or post dinner downstairs, so no need to leave the heritage building.
An offshoot of the city dining institution E'cco Bistro, this subterranean little Euro style bar in the base of a historical warehouse is not only made for a top shelf aperitif or nightcap after dining upstairs but, with its own bar menu derived from E'cco's menu it makes a great place for a casual share plate meal. Otherwise as a drop in its impressive drinks list is one of the best you'll find in the city.
With a touch of irony, the gritty end of Brunswick St is where to find the Valley's homiest bar. Inside the vibe is laidback, with strewn couches, potted plants, table games and a book case replete with novels and reference tomes and a BYO vinyl if- you-feel-like-it policy. Yet the hospitality is first class, from the ciders and biodynamic wines to the craft beer and savoury snacks, to the old school DJs.
While in summertime the courtyard and footpath are where the crowds gather at the 19th century bakery turned stylish bar, in winter the rabbit warren of charming little art deco rooms is the place to kick back with one of the dizzying array of wines, a fine cocktail, champagne or beer. And no need to leave for dinner as The Lark does a gourmet food menu ranging from tapas to mains, with schnitzel night on.
The hip little bar that lived down the city lane has since expanded underground and into food so that there's plenty of room for everyone to stay warm and not go hungry. The drinks, like the bar itself, are about quality not quantity but manage a decent range of wines, ciders, beers, spirits and house cocktails while bar food ranges from nibbles such as aubergine rolls to share plates such as the Ploughman's.
The Manhattan Club
More than a bar, The Manhattan Club is modelled on the original New York supper clubs with drinks, dinner and live music. As such this sizable split level venue behind the red velvet curtains is the kind of place to start with a pre-dinner drink and a snack of buffalo wings on a leather banquette downstairs and when the musician or band strikes up, move upstairs to the mezzanine level and sup while watching the action from above.
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