DC Fit Masthead

Nine new Canberra bars

Amanda Whitley and Beatrice Smith

Summer is in the air and it’s time to find a new watering hole. Here are nine recently-opened places to wet your whistle.

Want more? Check out our list of 20 of Canberra’s best bars.

The Highball Express


Photo: Ashley St George

“I want people to be transported,” says Ant Arena. We’re sitting on aqua benches in a whitewashed booth inside the Cuban-influenced Highball Express. Looking out across the room with its expansive ceiling, slowing rotating fans and many palm fronds, it’s hard to believe we’re sitting just a floor above the hustle of London Circuit. To my left, sliding weathered doors open onto a blue tiled terrace, the view disappearing into greenery.


Photo: Beatrice Smith.


Ant and his partners in Highball: Lorenzo Focarile, Sam Carlini and Dean Brown are no strangers to transporting people. The groups’ last project, Molly, is still sending Canberrans to the jazz age with its heavily authentic speakeasy fitout and attention to detail.

The same care has been taken with The Highball Express. Named after the prohibition era flights that took thirsty Americans to Cuba for rum ‘by the barrel’, Highball is part shady Cuban watering hole, part first class flight.

“We wanted a link between [Highball] and Molly,” explains Ant. “Firstly because they’re [physically] so close together but also because I love that era. I love the narrative.”

The stainless steel bar resembles the wing of a vintage plane, the fans turning overhead look like propellers and a vintage drinks trolley packed with all the ingredients for a variety of sultry rum punches will rattle between tables, offering in-seat ordering.

Photo: Ashley St George.

Photo: Ashley St George.


While Canberra has seen its share of high-concept bars gone astray, the team pull off the heavily researched décor so well that you almost forget the other important ingredient of a Cuban bar: the food and drink.

Like Molly, the focus is squarely on quality cocktails and a carefully curated selection of spirits with the bar back glittering with an international collection of golden spirits. “We even have a bottle of 50 year old Appleton Estate [Jamaican Rum],” says Ant. “We already have lawyers calling up, asking for a taste.”

The cocktail menu is as extensive as you would expect, with unique Highball creations sharing menu space with classic rum cocktails and interesting options such as Rum tasting menus.

Photo: Ashley St George.

Photo: Ashley St George.


Highball also possess an off-license, meaning that they will be setting wax sealed bottles of cocktails to take home with you from the trolley, rather like an in-flight purchase. The food hasn’t missed the time warp either.

“We will do charcuterie like at Molly, but also some Cuban flavours on there as well,” says Ant.

There will be a bespoke playlists on rotation, created by a German techno producer Ant found online who specialises in mixing Central American dancehall sounds with old school rap and R’n’B.

Photo: Ashley St George.

Photo: Ashley St George.


While Highball feels light and airy in the daytime with wide windows and bright whites, I have no doubt it will smoothly transition into a more intimate space at night if the tea candles on the tables are any indication. All aboard!

The Highball Express | Melbourne Building, Level 1, 82 Alinga Street, Canberra City | Open Tuesday and Wednesday 4pm til late, Thursday to Saturday 4pm til 3am, Sunday 1pm til late | www.highballexpress.com.au



Photo: supplied


Italian & Sons – Bacaro is a sleek, sexy space to enjoy a quick dinner, a glass of carefully-sourced regional Italian wine, or an authentic snack. The intimate, 50-seat wine bar is tucked at the back of Italian & Sons, on Lonsdale Street in Braddon.

The impressive bevelled Italian marble bar is the focal point of the venue, along with the custom-made, timber fireplace in the centre of the room.Expect honest Italian fare including house-made pasta, wood fired pizza, imported regional Italian formaggi such as a Lombardia blu di capra goats cheese and Sardegna fiore sardo dop sheep milk cheese as well as a selection of house-made cured meats.

Read the full article here.

Italian & Sons – Bacaro | 7 Lonsdale St, Braddon | Open 5pm til late, Monday to Saturday |  www.italianandsons.com.au


well dogs

Photo: Beatrice Smith


There’s street art on the walls, minimalist, functional furniture and realistically priced drinks; The Well is perfectly matched with its university campus home. It’s a big space, made intimate by dark furnishings and walls, however, it transforms effortlessly from cosy winter bolthole to breezy summer day-drinking destination. Outside there’s a veritable pile of pallets that have been assembled into a sprawling outdoor seating complex, perfect for large groups.

Cocktails start at a meagre $3 (the ‘Rising Sun’) and end at $16 (the ‘Citizen Kane’), making The Well easily the most affordable spot to drink on campus, let alone Belconnen. As for food, quality pub grub is rolled out from $7, perfect for soaking up any excess.

Read the full article here.

The Well | University of Canberra, Telita Street, Bruce | Open 12 noon to late seven days | thewelluc.com



Photo: Amanda Whitley

According to owner, Dan Sanderson, Muse  is ‘a space where good food, great wine and the magic of the written word come together’. First and foremost a restaurant, a patron might grab a glass of red from the wine bar and wander over to the shelves, pull up a bench seat, grab a book and settle in; or they  may spend their lunch hour alternatively eating their meal and eyeing off the latest titles.

At lunch the emphasis is on vegetables, with Ottolenghi’s restaurants cited as inspiration. The menu changes daily, depending on what’s in season, with diners able to create their meal from a selection of mains and impressive array of salads and side dishes. Evenings revolve around grazing: bar plates, local olives, charcuterie and handmade Australian cheese; and there’s a generous complement of desserts. The wine list is all-Australian, sourced from small and independent producers from Margaret River to the Mornington Peninsula via Mudgee and McLaren Vale.

Read the full article here.

Muse | East Hotel, 69 Canberra Ave, Kingston | See website for opening hours | www.musecanberra.com.au


Photo credit: Nathan Lanham.

Photo: Nathan Lanham.

Canberra has been crying out for a sophisticated wine bar south of the bridge for a really long time—Joe’s Bar delivers. The intimate space is big on textures and layers with earthen finishes and materials and conversation styling pieces dotted throughout including an incredible floor-to-ceiling concrete curtain at the entrance.

Mount Majura Vineyard’s Fergus McGhie is behind the wine list, which balances Italian wines with a selection of local drops designed to complement the modern Italian menu of Italian-born chef, Francesco Balestrieri. With a focus on using the freshest local produce sourced from within 100km of Canberra, menu highlights include Polpettine di Carne (meat balls); Smoked Burrata with shaved local truffle, EVOO and crusty bread; and Wagyu Beef Brisket with charred polenta and porcini butter.

Read the full article here.

Joe’s Bar |East Hotel, 69 Canberra Avenue, Kingston | Open 12 noon til late; kitchen open 3pm-10pm | joesateast.com


Photo: Tim Bean.

Photo: Tim Bean.

The newest addition to the neighbourhood hub that is Two Before Ten, The Bolt Bar is a welcome watering hole for Aranda locals. Named after Dirk Bolt, the architect behind the now-revitalised shops, there’s a good selection of tap beers including the Bolt Brew and Aranda Pale, and local wines.

The menu of sophisticated pub fare will be sure to please patrons, and there’s also the library just next door to settle in to. Less a bar than a local hangout, The Bolt Bar has a lovely lived in feel that will ensure it becomes a home away from home for many.

The Bolt Bar | 68 Bandjalong Crescent Aranda | Open 3pm til late Monday to Thursday and 11am til late Friday to Sunday| boltbar.com.au


white rabbit

Photo: Facebook

Kremlin Bar, the dusky Northbourne Avenue cocktail bar, closed its doors in September, emerging as White Rabbit Cocktail Room, an Alice in Wonderland themed floral paradise. It’s understatedly feminine, with a palette of deep aqua and dark wood, and intimate screens and playful decoration throughout the interior.

To complement the inventive cocktails is a menu that’s primarily dessert-based. While there are a few savoury options, the theatre of the sweet treats dominates: Mad hatter’s affogato, shot of espresso, vanilla ice cream served with chocolate coated Frangelico jelly, Sourdough donuts, raspberry and rum jam, raspberry gel, meringues and vanilla ice cream or Strawberry and vanilla bavarios “forest”, strawberry mushrooms, jelly, dark chocolate trees and pistachio ice cream, anyone?

Read the full article here.

White Rabbit Cocktail Room | Open 5pm til midnight Tuesday and Wednesday, 5pm tp 2pm Thursday to Saturday | 65 Northbourne Avenue, Civic | www.whiterabbitroom.com.au



Photo: Facebook


It’s so teeny (1.2 x 1.8m) that only four people can imbibe within its walls, but The Hutch has brought some much needed alcoholic refreshment to The Hamlet in Braddon. There’s local ale from Zierholz on tap and plenty of bottles of Pact Beer for those who’d like some variety; also wine, bubbles and cocktails.

The best part? You have a veritable cornucopia of bar food options to choose from, with the liquor license extending throughout The Hamlet. Grab a drink and then try to decide between all the options—or settle in for the night and work your way through them all!

The Hamlet | Open 6pm to 10pm Wednesday to Friday, 12 noon to 10pm Saturday and 12pm to 6pm Sunday | 16 Lonsdale Street, Braddon.



Photo: Instagram

Bar Rochford is still in the ‘coming soon’ camp but is just weeks away. There’s no theme for this bar, just an eclectic mix of food, drink, music and art – all the elements that make up a good night with friends and encourages fine times.

Owner, Nick Smith, says he wanted to create an intimate feel with a large communal bar that sits in front of the half moon window in the iconic Melbourne Building. Fresh from eightysix, chef Ian will be creating a menu centred around a fired chargrill cooking local meats, seafood and local produce. Drinks will focus on wine, vermouth, old cocktails and beers accompanied by sixties soul, Chicago blues to jazz, African funk and disco tunes.

Read the full article here.

Bar Rochford | Open 5pm til late, Tuesday to Saturday | Melbourne Building, First Floor 65 London Circuit, Canberra City | www.barrochford.com


Amanda Whitley

Amanda Whitley is the founder and director of HerCanberra. In her 'spare time', she instructs zumba, loves to cook (and eat), and wrangles two gorgeous little girls. She's done everything from present the tv news to operate a stop and go sign and is passionate about connecting Canberra women. More about the Author


Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Online Editor involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise, you’ll find her at the movies or ordering a cheese board. More about the Author

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