Over the last decade, Melbourne’s beloved west has become a magnet for cocktail, craft beer and natural wine drinkers alike.

Set among a number of outstanding African, Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants, a glut of excellent bars has earnt Footscray a reputation for great drinking; here’s where you’ll want to test the theory next time you’re in the ’Scray.

Footscray’s comparatively low rent makes it a breeding ground for laid-back, DIY venues that were once common in the inner north, but have largely been priced out. Bud of Love is a case in point – a wine bar and bottle shop, and a great place to kick off a night in downtown Footscray. Replete with free trivia on Thursday and a happy hour that does $10 wines and $12 cocktails, Bud of Love also sports a wall of bottles that you can take away or drink in, and a short by-the-glass list featuring deliciousness like a Beyond the Glass Ginger marsanne pinot gris: an amber delight showing the creativity of Victoria’s modern winemakers. 

Got a dog? Take them for a stroll through Footscray’s back-street warehouses to Hop Nation, a dog-friendly craft brewery open Thursday to Sunday arvos. Try limited-edition brews like a bright, hoppy Green Mater Hazy IPA and watch as the sun sets behind the neighbouring cargo cranes. Dog jealous of your froth? Why not take them to a gig at Melbourne’s most inclusive and dog-friendly live music venue, Mamma Chen’s. Not only is their band room wheelchair accessible, this youthful bar also offers doggo beers (bone broth in a can). Mamma Chen’s also serves plenty of human-friendly options – a Pornstar Martini by Cloud Cuckoo, for one. 

For a traditional pub experience, settle in with a pint of O’Brien’s gluten-free lager at The Victoria Hotel. This heritage venue has been beautifully restored in dark wood and features a huge four-sided bar. Pull up a stool and order some excellent pub grub from their 100 per cent gluten-free kitchen and enjoy sports on the telly and some of the best pub service around. Beer enthusiast? The suds headline the offering at Bar Josephine, too – a local institution where books cover the walls and films like Scott Pilgrim play silently on a projector. There are 12 rotating beer taps pouring the likes of deliciously malty 3 Ravens ESB, but this is not a pub; classic cocktails are mixed to perfection here, and their mulled Napoleon cider hits the spot and warms the cockles.

Another institution is Mr West: a hospo hub and a bastion of better drinking. Even on a quiet night, the low-key buzz of this converted warehouse – bottle shop downstairs, bar upstairs – feels like something special. There are 24 taps behind the long bar pouring limited-edition brews made in collaboration with the likes of Boatrocker Brewers and Distillers and Hargreaves Hill Brewing Co, and there’s a huge selection of lesser-known spirits and wines, too, such as Marionette’s blue curaçao and Maidenii’s vermouth. The cocktails here are as good as any you’ll find anywhere in Melbourne – a Morris single-malt whisky with saltbush, honey and Pennyweight fino sherry, for example. Guests are welcome to bring in outside food from one of the many nearby eateries, too. 

For a darker twist on the casual bar theme, Hail Lilith is the spot to be if you resonate with all things occult. With Victorian armchairs wrapped in velvet brocade lit up by enough candles to conduct a Catholic mass, Lilith is a natural host for regular burlesque shows and art classes. The 100 per cent plant-based food menu offers vegan good times, while a glass of Long Story Short pinot noir has enough dark juiciness to slake a carnal thirst. If house party vibes are more your thing, hit nearby Littlefoot. The interior is acid trip-esque, with beaded curtains and red lanterns, but the menu is Italian-inspired; the arancini and meatballs are both excellent. DJs play beneath the disco ball from 9pm on weekends, and beers like 2 Brothers Grizz American Amber can be found on tap. It’s not often you can get a frozen Margarita, a disco DJ and a carbonara in the same place, and Littlefoot makes us wonder why the hell not.

Head up the bright pink and blue staircase into the disco ball-lit Baby Snakes Bar, where you’ll find live DJs spinning synth-pop, natural wine flowing freely and pizza from Slice Shop downstairs. The beats thump, and it’s the perfect spot to sit and enjoy a zesty Molly Rose Brewing Co sour and consider what a good time it is to be drinking in Footscray. 

By Fred Siggins