If spring is just around the corner, why is it still so cold?
Luckily there’s an upside to the ongoing chill: the opportunity to get comfortable in some of Canberra’s cosiest hotel bars. Here are our picks of the best of the bunch.
Monster Kitchen and Bar at Ovolo Nishi
The dramatic staircase that leads to the ground floor of the Ovolo Nishi hotel on the edge of the Canberra CBD is the first indication of the eclectic vibe that awaits at Monster Kitchen & Bar. Reclaimed timber wraps the stairs, walls and ceiling, a cocoon-like entrance that leads to open fires in both the lounge and dining areas in this cleverly curated space.
A series of cosy boltholes – low-slung lounge chairs and sofas, banquettes, and small and high-top tables – means guests can pick an area that suits their mood, and the size of their group, before settling in for cocktails.
The open kitchen sends out dishes crafted from local and sustainable produce to the bar and dining room. The winter set menu features truffle daikon soup, wagyu rump with jalapeno verde, pickled king brown mushrooms, onion, leek and jus. The bar snacks range from tuna tataki to a katsu sandwich with panko chicken, chilli tonkatsu sauce and spicy slaw.
Monster Kitchen and Bar is a place to suit many moods: a big night out with pre-dinner drinks at the bar followed by a meal in the dining room; a drink before catching a movie at Palace Electric Cinemas downstairs; or a post-show nightcap in front of one of the beguiling fireplaces.
A word of warning, though: with the dining room featuring padded seating around the fireplace, there is a risk of drifting off and having to be escorted from the building at closing time.
Joe’s Bar, East Hotel
It’s not every day you find an authentic slice of Italy plonked in the heart of Kingston, but when siblings Dan and Dion Bisa set out to create Joe’s Bar five years ago that’s exactly the vision they had in mind.
The Italian heritage of their father, Joe, is the inspiration for both the name and the design of this small but perfectly formed bar on the ground floor of the East Hotel, which was recently named among Australia’s top 25 hotels in TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Best of the Best Awards.
The collection of Murano glass displayed throughout is a nod to Joe’s home town of Treviso in Italy’s Veneto region, which is famous for its glassware. The drinks list is inspired by the Italian aperitivo, and a hot-pink wall, leather and velvet-covered sofas, and dramatic chandeliers add to the international glamour.
Pair your aperitivo with a plate of antipasto, a slice of pizza or a plate of pasta. If you want to keep things authentic, make your drink something bitter – an Aperol spritz or a Negroni are traditional choices. Joe’s has given the latter a local twist, with the Canberra Native Negroni comprising Big River Distilling Co Canberra Gin and Outlandish Claims bitter tonic created by Bryan Martin from Ravensworth Wines.
I’m throwing tradition to the wind and making the Sgroppino cocktail my starting point. A moreish mix of vodka, limoncello, lemon sorbet and Dal Zotto Prosecco. It may also be the end of me!
The Howling Moon, Canberra Rex Hotel
The Canberra Rex Hotel has been a Canberra landmark for more than 60 years. It has certainly seen some comings and goings, including in 1966 when US President Lyndon B Johnson was escorted back to the hotel crouched in the back of an unmarked police car with a blanket thrown over him to avoid anti-Vietnam War protestors after a drunken night out with Australia’s Prime Minister Harold Holt.
These days, there are easier ways to come and go from The Rex, with the light rail heading past its front door. The evocatively named The Howling Moon rooftop bar should be on everybody’s must-visit bars list.
With floor-to-ceiling windows and a glass-topped ceiling, The Howling Moon’s big selling point is its view. People in the know book a window seat to watch the sun set with a peach Bellini in hand, and as darkness sets in the star-studded night sky complements the venue’s party lights.
Mushroom arancini, buttermilk chicken wings, quail ‘lollipops’ and barbecue pork buns provide sufficient ballast to avoid going all the way like LBJ.