Art, Aperitifs and Absinthe go hand-in-hand until the early hours at the stylish Bar Ampere, where the striking alcove seating area at the front is larger the cosy jewel-box interior.
Location: 16 Russell Pl, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Bar Ampere stands out from other Melbourne bars in a couple of ways.
Firstly, the internal bar itself is actually quite tiny, but the arched seating area out front is generous. And arresting. That’s because of the colourful art works on its wall and ceiling.
And secondly, the drinks list is very European, with Vermouth and Absinthe major players.
So it’s not surprisingly to learn that Bar Ampere is another entry in Vernon Chalker’s stable of highly original drinking dens. Other stars in his firmament include the kitsch faux-grass and lawn tennis vibes of Madame Brussels and the opulent textures of the moody Gin Palace. In fact, the Gin Palace lies next door to Bar Ampere, and the 2 venues are linked, I believe, by a discreet doorway.
Add in late night opening hours and a crowd-pleasing menu of bar snacks and you’ve got a great spot for a tipple or 2 in the wee small hours of the morning.
Parisian in feel, Bar Ampere is a drinking joint of 2 very different parts.
The entrance onto Russell Place is distinctive due to the 3 high arches cut into the fascade of the lofty alcove. This alcove holds tables and chairs and is pleasingly sheltered from the heat of summer and the chill of winter – helped by a scattering of burners firing during the winter months.
When Ampere first opened, this alcove was simply dull, grey cement, but no more. These days, the internal walls and curved ceiling that soars overhead are a riot of colourful, cartoonish images. It’s a great place to sit with a glass of something mellow and watch the stragglers amble by – you feel cosseted and tucked away in a secret world.
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Head inside, and the most remarkable thing is how tiny the bar proper is.
Again, quirky design is at the fore. There’s a feature wall of chartreuse yellow spheres of glass, created from the bottoms of dozens of bottles. Looking in from the street, it glows with beckoning warmth – a jewel-like centre to a mysterious space.
The actual bar is curved, chromed-clad and crowded. It’s very functional. There are stools around its edge and more seating tucked to one side.
Although Bar Ampere describes itself as an Aperitif and Cocktail bar, I’d quibble with them about the cocktail bit. True, they serve Cocktails, but not many of them.
Having said that, the solicitous bar staff are more than happy to mix up something off-menu – should you enquire.
With this in mind, we opened with Espresso Martinis and an impressively strong Margarita, before putting ourselves in the hands of our helpful server.
One of us expressed a love of Rum and received a spicy Orange-infused number which smelt like Christmas in a glass. Another couple fancied Cucumber with their Gin and were happy to get reacquainted with an Eastside.
However, if Cocktails aren’t your thing, this watering hole has plenty of other temptations on its shelves. Bar Ampere has an extensive menu of Aperitifs and Digestives – including a number of fabulously medicinal Amaros.
This is also the place to come if you love the liquorice and earth notes of Absinthe. And if you’ve never sipped an Absinthe, I recommend that you don’t knock it til you try it.
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Why don’t more cafes and bars serve Raclette? Honestly, as the weather cools, I can think of few more appetising bar snacks than sourdough blanketed with gooey, melted cheese.
Other European-tinged offerings include a Chicken Liver Parfait, Steak Tartare and Charcuterie and Cheese plates. If you are feeling more famished, the kitchen runs to Burgers – Beef, Fried Chicken & Vegetarian – and a couple of Sandwiches.
One of the additional beauties of Bar Ampere is that it is open until 3am, 7 days a week. This makes it a great bolt-hole if you’re out late and need to eat before heading home.
In a city bursting with excellent drinking dens, Bar Ampere manages to stand out from the pack with its idiosyncratic decor and European-inspired menu.
If you find yourself around this part of town early in the evening, nip in for a pre-dinner Aperitif. Alternatively, swing by for a Digestive post meal. And give that Raclette a go sometime – you won’t regret it.