A few weeks back I had the pleasure of visiting the capital of South Australia, Adelaide. Given most of Australia’s population lives on the East coast, for many of us Adelaide is the sort of place you go to visit for relatives, or as a gateway to its excellent wine regions like the Barossa Valley or McClaren Vale, not to mention stunning places like Kangaroo Island.
A small city by Australian standards with a very tidy grid layout, it also had the image of being a bit staid. Though it has held for many years the superb WOMADelaide and other festivals, but essentially it’s a self-contained place that quietly gets on with its own business.
I’m pleased to report that all that has changed.
A serendipitous combination of new planning and zoning laws in the city for laneways and bars, and the emergence of new spirit makers have seen a blossoming of the bar + cocktail scene in the last two years.
From what was apparently something of a tame inner city wasteland, now you have over 50 small bars downtown. Generally they can only have about 20 patrons, larger bars exist of course, and with a more liberal planning + approval approach to using heritage sites by the City Council means you have lots of choice in interesting spaces.
What were pedestrian walkthroughs and dilapidated buildings have been converted to welcoming streetscapes and lots of spaces that complement each with well in their offerings and personality.
South Australia is justly renowned for its wines but its craft spirit and bar scene are relatively new.
The exception to all this is Kangaroo Island Spirits, produced by the famous John Lark, brother of living legend Bill Lark from Tasmania. They pioneered the Australian craft spirit industry for years with their lovely range of spirits and the use of native botanicals, and are now riding the spirit wave with aplomb.
I should also mention that there is a parallel boom in the craft beer scene, great coffee and a friendly and informed approach to service across the board.
By the way, I’ll be reviewing products from KIS, along with Prohibition Liquor plus the accomplished Applewood Distillery in the coming weeks.
So I had the pleasure to many several of the new wave players and sample as many bars as I could over a weekend, and they really put the welcome mat out for me.
Even if it meant sampling gin for breakfast when I met Sascha La Forgia from Adelaide Hills Distillery! There is also a new entrant in the form of Encounter Coast Spirits which I’m yet to sample, and popular Settler’s Gin, whose range I saw everywhere in the city.
The things I do for you.
Joining the Dots
To state the obvious a product doesn’t exist in isolation.
What’s emerged in Adelaide is a healthy and supportive ecosystem of makers, quality spaces + venues, distribution pathways, passionate and informed bar staff and appreciative drinkers.
Although they evolved independently to an extent and its almost serendipitous that several emerged at the same time as the bars evolved, along with the local + tourism market ready for them.
Some of the makers I met were always going to make gin because they love it, but now have a scene which is a catalyst for more opportunities to create more products and this reduces their risk.
I experienced a very positive vibe in the hospitality scene, those involved really cared about what they were on about, and the customer experience, and I enjoyed several cracker Martinis.
So much for the context, lets get a drink. Here’s a run down of the places I experienced.
Bank Street Social
The biggest bar I experienced in my quick trip, and with a great range of Australian spirits to sample. I drifted on into the peak Friday night happy hour time, but the team were engaging and friendly, and the basement, speakeasy vibe works well. It’s a place to bring a posse for a good time and some quality drinks.
Perhaps the Martini of the trip was had here. In the must-visit Peel Street in a strip of bars and tapas joints, this is a classy number that I wish was in my neighbourhood. On my visit we had some pretty socialites well dress drinking French champers to kick start their night, older tourists taking it in, some locals swinging past on a way to a show, and a couple of regulars sitting at the bar for a chat and a glass of wine. My Martini was a perfectly constructed number using the brand new Sud Polaire from Tasmania (a review is pending by the way).
One of the best situations in the city, in an alleyway (pictured), relatively new but highly regarded all round. I sat outside and sampled several terrific G+Ts with local gins and homemade tonic et alia. It has a nautical theme decor-wise, but I don’t think that’s the point really here, its a well-thought out bar that is professionally run with care and a genuine welcome.
One of their management team reached out to me via social media before I arrived with a list of bars I should experience on my trip, which says a lot of about the scene there.
One of the original small bars I’m told, happily across the road from where I staying in an alleyway off Weymouth Street. Upstairs/ downstairs shop vibe, all dark wood and marble top bar with bendwood chairs. I’m reliably told you can go off-piste the menu confidently that these gents will mix something with aplomb for you.
I was there late on a Friday night and it had a cosy regulars night in feel about it, lots of laughs and interaction with jazz in the background.
The Howling Owl Cafe and Wine Bar
The gents from the Prohibition Liquor Co. met me here for cocktails on a hot Friday evening. It felt very Love Shack to me. Old wooden shop (with a comedy venue + wine bar out back) opening onto a book store off to one side, and tables jammed in around the bar. A very eclectic crowd rubbing shoulders happily, office works, retirees who followed our Martini trend and tourists.
Relaxed and friendly, the good vibes are infectious.
I wanted to see what a ‘corporate bar’ might be like, so in the Hyatt downtown sits this bar. They’ve a polished Instagram feed, and being a buzzy Saturday night it offered great people watching from the open windows looking out onto the street with passing wedding parties and bright young things off to a party.
They offer table service and mixed me a very competently made Martini, as I took in the mixed older crowd.
Other places to put on your list
Next time you visit, put these on your list recommended by locals in the hospo scene:
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