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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fifteen years ago licensing reform in Melbourne sparked a "small bar" revolution, attracting a global influx of bartenders to Australia. Since then, Victoria's capital has become famed for its particularly diverse and energetic bar scene.
Some might argue that Melbourne's bar scene is enjoying a second Golden Age.
The first would have been the 1800s.
"As Jerry Thomas was publishing his cocktail book in 1862 and Americans were falling for the mixed drink, gold was making Melbourne one of the world's wealthiest cities," recounts Martin Newell, a local brand ambassador with rum maker Bacardi.
"And with a taste for gold came a taste for cocktails."
Naturally, a number of Melbourne's bars celebrate this era, albeit with a few modern twists.
For example, at the Lui Bar (here)
on the 55th floor of Rialto Towers, Australian bartending icon Sebastian Reaburn tells the story of Melbourne's 19th-century cocktail culture through the bar menu, showcasing drinks like the Lola Montez Spider Dance Fizz (Grand Marnier, fresh blood orange juice and Champagne), named after an 1850s erotic dancer.
Similarly, in the Central Bar District (CBD), office workers after hours tip their glass at 1806 (www.1806.com.au/), a cocktail bar named for the year that the word "cocktail" is thought to have first appeared in print. The cocktail menu is arranged in a spectacular chronological format - with drinks spanning from 1846 straight through to present day. Downstairs, The Understudy focuses on cutting-edge concoctions.
Nearby, the iconic Gin Palace (www.ginpalace.com.au/),
a small bar mainstay since 1997, pays homage to the storied Martini.
Other recommended stops include Melbourne Supper Club (161 Spring St), famed for its epic wine list, cigar humidor and view of Parliament House, and The Attic (304 Brunswick St), which recently opened above The Black Pearl and draws locals in with generous leather chairs and well-made cocktails.
Most would say this wide-ranging selection of watering holes is nothing short of golden.
RECIPE: The Port Stinger
A Stinger is a classic cocktail dating back to the pre-Prohibition era, usually a duo of brandy and crème de menthe. But a number of variations exist, including this version from bartender Chris Hysted of The Attic, which in true Melbourne style, deftly combines the old and the new.
"Hysted has created cult status for it," Newell says of the drink. "Ordering it should bring you instant respect." 2 parts tawny port 1 part crème de menthe Shake, serve in an icy cold cocktail glass or coupette and garnish with a mint sprig.
(Editing by Peter Myers and Paul Casciato)
Kara Newman is the author of “Spice & Ice: 60 tongue-tingling cocktails,” available. The opinions expressed are her own.