The tree-lined streets of this small, residential neighbourhood in Melbourne’s inner north are home to some of the city’s most interesting small bars. The well-heeled residents of this quiet area know their Victorian architecture and good wine, but aren’t generally looking to party, and as such, the casual venues here offer excellent drinks and great food perfect for a relaxing weeknight. But along with the established favourites, a new wave of wine-focused venues is forging a path in Carlton North, with Victoria’s next-gen winemakers front and centre.
Gerald’s Bar is a Melbourne institution and a perfect reflection of what Carlton North does well, providing the local community with a long list of carefully-selected, classic wines and simple, beautiful, Euro-inspired food since 2006. A lock on “Melbourne’s best” lists for nearly two decades, Gerald’s occupies a comfortably cramped, lace-curtained shopfront that radiates warmth out onto Rathdowne Street. Here, the professional-yet-personal service is proof of what this city does right when it comes to wine bars. Get cosy with a bottle of William Downie Gippsland pinot noir from the list of local legends and let Gerald and his team show you the meaning of true hospitality.
Little Andorra is another wonderful little wine bar where the esoteric tastes of owner Luke Bresnan are on show in the form of eclectic, ever-rotating wines and vinyl, such as Afrobeats group Antibalas and Swedish electronic jazz duo Koop. Funky, fun and different is the vibe on the wine list here, like a field blend of pinot noir, shiraz and merlot from Yarra Valley’s Proud Primary Produce. Chef Mertcan Dogusgen’s menu reflects the flavours of Anatolia, with guest chefs taking over on Mondays.
One of the newest additions to the area is Marama, a casual wine bar with comfy, leather-clad bar stools. Here, a couple of beer taps pour local craft pilsner from Banks in Seaford and Hazy Pale from Collingwood’s Molly Rose, while the wine list leans heavily on new-gen Victorian winemakers like Dirty Black Denim and Little Rara, proving that in this area of longstanding classics, the kids are alright, too.
Another bar aimed at a more youthful crowd is Sleepy’s Cafe & Wine Bar up the top end of Nicholson St. Open as a café in the daytime and a casual small bar at night, there’s a good balance here between wine, beer and spirits on offer with no drinker left behind. Try a glass of Hochkirch syrah to go with a snack of anchovies on Chinese doughnuts, and finish with a bittersweet Cascara Old Fashioned made with The Gospel Rye.
Restaurant and bar Henry Sugar serves wonderful food and natural wine, like the Minim skin contact vermentino from Heathcote, but they also have the best cocktail list in the area. Created by co-owner Daniel Mason with an eye to sustainability, the list features crafty, house-made ingredients in drinks like a Fig Leaf Old-Fashioned with Morris single malt from Rutherglen. Their thoughtful non-alcoholic options also include Bandwagon 0% gin from Healesville’s Four Pillars.
If you’re here for the beer, The Great Northern should be top of your list, doing all the things a neighbourhood pub should, like trivia nights and cheap eats, with a dog-friendly beer garden replete with AFL on the big screens. But beyond being a solid local, this pub has long had one of the best beer lists in Melbourne, with a great selection of local gear like Kaiju Crush and Hargreaves Hill pouring forth from 22 taps.
Speaking of pubs, The Brandon Hotel is the neighbourhood’s unsung hero of pub grub. Tucked in the back streets, The Brando is unknown to all but long-standing local residents. The food at this unassuming local is a cut above, with nightly specials like chicken saltimbocca, house-made pork sausages and Malaysian beef curry that speak to the strength of the crew in the kitchen. The bar staff are also genuinely lovely; grab a pint of Two Birds Sunset Ale and scratch that pub-gub itch.
For takeaway wine, The Wine Corner is a cute little bottle-shop-cum-wine-bar where you can try before you buy or settle in on a handful of tables along leafy Canning Street for a cheese plate and a glass of Bannockburn chardonnay or a Temple Brewing mandarin sour on tap. From this vantage, watch brilliant, unobstructed sunsets all year round as commuters cycle past in blissful silence.
By Fred Siggins