Not too long ago, you’d be lucky to get a cube of moist cheddar cheese and a pickled onion at your local wine bar. Now you go to a bar to eat as much as to drink. They have real kitchens, “real” chefs, and thoughtful menus, but they still come with all the easy welcome and informality of a local bar. The flexibility of a bar suits the new generation of chefs – but more importantly, it suits us.
Bars do us good. We behave differently in bars. We talk to strangers, chat with the staff about more than the weather, or sit happily content alone. Bars are more forgiving than restaurants, often cheaper and more fun. These are not empty stages waiting for the actors to arrive and consciously move into place. They’re somewhere in the middle of the third act at all times. “It’s not business, it’s life,” suggests Gerald Diffey in his recent autobar-ography on Gerald’s Bar in North Carlton.
This new breed is not going to insert an eight-course tasting menu into the Stum and Drang of this third act. Eating at the bar is above all big touches of flavor, lots of crunch and easy sharing. I’m thinking here of Ali Currey-Voumard’s chicken livers on toast at Fitzroy North’s bottle-lined Public Wine Shop, and Ellie Bouhadana’s artichoke burrata at Hope St Radio wine and pasta bar in Collingwood.
In Sydney, new bars are often hybrid. Getting to Paski Vineria Popolare in Darlinghurst is like walking into an Italian enoteca (wine store), but for the fact that you can dine on Enrico Tomelleri’s handmade pasta. At Hickson House Distilling Co. in The Rocks, they don’t just serve up nasty G&T, they distill the gin on the premises.
Other bars exist to expand the footprint of existing restaurants. Lively tapas bar La Salut in Sydney’s Redfern district joins the Ragazzi brothers and Dear Saint Eloise. In Melbourne’s Yarraville, Julian Hills opened the Navi Lounge cocktail bar next to his one-hat Navi, and Clinton McIver now has Auterra, opposite his two-hat Amaru in Armadale, offering stylish snacks such as Key – crab cakes, paired with specialty champagnes.
There are more to come as well, suggesting that bars are this year’s new culinary frontier. Meet me at the bar, and I’ll tell you everything.