Canberra's new wave of great bars

Photography: Jason Loucas

Canberra just keeps getting cooler - and we're not talking about the weather.

Building on an already impressive cocktail and aperitivo bar offering - which includes top-shelf contenders Monster in Hotel Hotel, Bacaro at Italian & Sons and the much-loved underground speakeasy Molly - the drinks scene in our nation's capital continues to make room for new and interesting friends at the bar.

Bar Rochford opened in March on the upstairs level of the historic Melbourne Building in Civic. Its focus? Sharp cocktails by the fireplace, natural wines from Jauma to Jamsheed, the likes of lamb tartare with Jerusalem artichoke (from a former Sixpenny and Eightysix chef, no less) and a vinyl-only playlist (hello rockabilly on 45s). Rochford's co-owner and bartender Nick Smith spent seven years in Melbourne and was inspired by the small-bar scene there. "We wanted to bring something servicedriven to Canberra that combined art, music, good food and wine," he says. "Not just a bar or just a restaurant, but somewhere in between."

Read On the House: Bar Rochford in four drinks.

Another upstairs hit in Civic is the breezy, Cuban-themed Highball Express - which quite possibly houses Australia's biggest range of rums and is from the same bar czars that are behind drinking dens Molly and the newly opened Black Market. "Canberra's growin' up," says Highball director Lorenzo Focarile. "The bar scene is evolving and changing so quickly, it's a very exciting time to help redefine the industry and culture."

In Acton, near Hotel Hotel, Black Market has moved into the basement of A Baker, and is busy slinging rare and limited-edition spirits, cocktails made with dry ice and fat-washing techniques (duck fat-washed Cognac, bacon-washed bourbon), and bar snacks such as beef jerky set alight with whisky before your eyes. "It's the kind of place you can feel like you're at the part , but still have a conversation," says co-director Antony Arena. Good thing Canberra's bean scene is also brilliant and ever-expanding. Head for a roast at Ona, Barrio or The Cupping Room to sooth any hangover blues.;;

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