Laneway bars and rooftop hideouts: This is drinking in Bendigo (no, not Melbourne)
Mixing drinks like a metro-pro, at Ms Batterhams on McKenzie Street.
There’s nothing like an old-fashioned Aussie pub, and that’s exactly what the Old Boundary Hotel is: a cosy old-school place with bare brick walls, timber rafters and a red carpet, with a dining area on one side and a bar on the other.
On this weekday lunchtime it’s full of groups of friends and workmates having lunch or a beer, as I am – parked strategically near one of the gas fires burning in an old fireplace.
On ordering another pint of Balter XPA (from a Gold Coast brewery) I get chatting with the barman, and ask about the curious way the building seems to be split into two separate parts.
Beers by an open fire? That’s how a pub should be.
Pointing at a large photo on one wall, he says: “That’s the original pub, which burned down and was replaced with this one in 1901. The family that ran it used to live in this part, which is now the dining room.”
I’ve learnt something today. On my way out through the quieter bar area to the street, I admire the pub’s corrugated roof and decorative gables, and wonder what else Bendigo’s drinking scene has to show me.
Old Boundary Hotel is at 2 Milroy St, Bendigo
By the rivers of Babylon
Opened in 2019, Babylon Lounge & Garden Bar’s front section is dotted with potted plants, comfortable seating and a random selection of arty objects including an inflated moose head above the bar.
The real highlight of this place is, however, the garden bar at the rear. It’s an eccentric delight, a big outdoor space decked out with even more potted plants, some quite big, which gives it the air of a mini-jungle bordered by timber flooring and brick walls.
Enter the gardens of Bendigo’s Babylon. Photo: Facebook
The drinks list is unpretentious, constructed along the lines of classic cocktails and a wide-ranging beer list. While I sip a faultless vodka martini I chat to the barman, who confirms the bar’s appeal to a post-student set.
“Our clientele is people 25 and up, who are a bit more discerning with their drinks,” he says.
Nodding, I feel flattered.
Babylon is at 94 Pall Mall, Bendigo
Every city needs a good rooftop bar, and Bendigo’s answer is Nimbus. Its third-floor perch has a sweeping view of the city centre.
“Sunset from up here is amazing,” barman Cody says.
“Sometimes you can see the bats flying up out of Rosalind Park.”
I’m here after dark for a pre-dinner drink, so I’ve missed out on the treat of flying mammals.
At this time of night it seems a secret space above the streets, accessed by a lift rising past nondescript levels of offices. The rear bar area is cool and dark, with strips of light above the timber decking.
There’s a tasty-looking food menu, and the drinks list balances well-known cocktails with interesting house concoctions. My wife Narrelle orders Head in the Clouds, involving coconut water, coconut cream, vodka, white chocolate liqueur and blue curacao.
I’m going for another vodka martini, this time dirty and with olives.
Nimbus is at Level 3, 103 Mitchell St, Bendigo
What the doctor ordered
One of the forerunners of Bendigo’s contemporary drinking scene, The Dispensary has everything you need in an appealing modern bar: knowledgeable staff, an interesting drinks list, distinctive décor, and of course – a laneway location.
“It’s the sort of place where people come and know whatever they order, they’ll be getting the best of it, served in the right way,” owner Finn Vedelsby says.
One of the originals, and still one of the best – The Dispensary.
The Dispensary is famous for its diverse drinks list with a European slant, though it’s also well supplied with Victorian drops.
Of most interest is its pre-dinner drinks menu, from which Narrelle selects a mocktail version of the burnt orange and vanilla bean margarita, while I go for the bitter apple switchel, described as “Finn’s homemade maple bitter apple bitters wrapped around bison grass vodka.”
It’s a refreshing drink, as strong as a bison and as smooth as Finn’s welcoming patter.
The Dispensary at 9 Chancery Ln, Bendigo
Other Bendigo bars worth sampling:
- Handle Bar: Hidden behind a popular daytime café, this outdoor garden bar is informal and fun, and regularly hosts live music
- Basement Bar: Another semi-concealed drinking hole, beneath a former bank vault and serving up live music, Tiki cocktails and craft beer
- Rifle Brigade Hotel: Victorian-era pub with a strong food menu, great for a drink after taking in culture at the nearby Bendigo Art Gallery
- Wine Bank on View: Elegant wine bar within a beautifully restored banking chamber, stocked with wines from across the Bendigo and Heathcote regions
The author travelled courtesy of Bendigo Tourism