Refinement meets experimentation in this stylish, intimate shrine to sustainable – and oh so delicious – cocktail making.
Location: Level 2/169 Bourke St, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Don’t you just love it when you stumble through an unmarked metal door on a nondescript stairwell and find yourself in a stunner of a cocktail bar?
It was one such stroke of good fortune that led to our discovery of the truly fabulous Bouvardia cocktail bar a few weeks ago.
Lured by a neon sign on a rooftop off of Russell Street, we slipped down a typical Melbourne laneway and scaled the stairs to Pomelo Rooftop Bar – a cute little venue on an open terrace. But it wasn’t doing it for us. Despite its quirky bubble gum pink and mint green embellishments, it was still early and, at that hour, it lacked a bit of atmosphere.
So we decided to try elsewhere and perhaps come back later.
On our way down to street level, we paused at the sound of heavy base coming through a metal door. Despite the door being unmarked, we gave it a shove, and found ourselves in one of the most beautiful drinking dens in the city – Bouvardia Melbourne.
Olive and other soothing shades of green are offset by plush, dusky rose soft furnishings and bronze light fittings.
The main bar is truly striking. There’s a sensational malachite marble bar running the length of the room and shelving behind in the same stunning stone.
If you want want to sit up at the counter – well worth it if you want to absorb the magic as it happens whilst your drink is mixed – there are chairs to perch on. Alternatively, you can grab a quieter spot at a table. There’s also another room, furnished with comfy aqua couches. On a warm evening, the window along the back wall opens to the sounds of Bourke St and a cooling breeze wafts in.
But it’s late at night that Bouvardia really comes into its own. There’s a seductive opulence to the decor that lends itself to subdued lighting and whispered conversations.
If you can’t resist a good cocktail, check out our recommendation for the Best Cocktail Bars in Melbourne
Don’t nip up to Bouvardia if you want a Pina Colada or a middy of beer.
Bouvardia cocktail bar is all about finely crafted, skilfully mixed drinks.
They offer a mere ten, carefully curated drinks, which change depending on the availability of ingredients.
And it really is all about those ingredients.
The cocktails at Bouvardia are highly experimental and push the envelope on what you expect to find in a martini glass. Sustainability and process are paramount and the charming and informative bar staff are happy to explain exactly what has gone into making each drink. And why.
So the fabulously named Not All Cucumbers Wear Capes ($25) is a sherberty, fennel-forward palate-tingler of Gin, Capers, Fennel Seed and Acidified Cucumber. It’s salty, sweet, aniseedy, tart and utterly delicious.
Meanwhile, the B.A.B ($25) features Basil, Australian Brandy and Black Apple. A chat to the bar tender reveals that the ‘black apple’ is literally that. With apple vacuum-sealed and left until it turns black in colour. It’s a process that may take 8 weeks. Such impressive patience shows the dedication that the team is willing to put in to achieve the desired results.
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Their most popular tipple is the elegant Major Tom ($25). An incredibly drinkable mix of Lacto-Fermented Passionfruit, Mandarin Curacao and Amazake Cream. Whilst passionfruit is the dominant flavour, it forms a perfect trifecta with the other 2 ingredients. Plus, it’s as pretty as a picture.
It arguably takes an extremely refined palate to combine pork and cuttlefish ink in a drink and not only make it taste acceptable, but absolutely delicious. What’s more, it takes a brave person to try try it.
But try it you must!
All your instincts will no doubt tell you that The Dweller In The Gulf ($23) – the whackiest take on surf’n’turf you’ll ever find in a glass – shouldn’t work. Tepache, Pineapple Falernum, Honey + Soy, and yep, Pork and Cuttlefish Ink combined in a mysterious libation of murky, yet glorious, fruitiness. It’s a knock out of a drink and goes down way too easily on a warm evening when that back window is thrown open.
And don’t worry about any lingering porky richness and fishy aromas. The pork content is purely pork fat, used to rinse the alcohol in the drink – not for flavouring. Similarly, the cuttlefish ink adds the dramatic colour to the cocktail, rather than an unpleasant after-taste. In fact, the pork fat used in this recipe apparently comes from Straight Outta Saigon, just around the corner. Or so I was told!
For a round-up of some of our favourite Bars in Melbourne, see here.
Incidentally, we learnt later that Pomelo Rooftop Bar where we first emerged from the stair well is Bouvardia’s sister establishment. More than that, the 2 have a close relationship in terms of their drink production. Apparently, Pomelo sells a number of seltzers which are house-made (and canned) from the left-overs of Bouvardia’s cocktail making.
Undoubtedly, Melbourne is a city blessed with great cocktails bars.
What’s more there are some brilliant mixologists plying their craft in this town and shaking up a storm.
However, few places offer as unique a drinking experience as Bouvardia cocktail bar.
Whilst many drinking dens talk of experimental and exciting cocktail lists, few deliver with the same level of finesse as Bouvardia.
If you want one-off cocktails, made to exacting sustainable principles – and sophisticated decor – this is it.
We’re already looking forward to our next stumble up the staircase.
For sophisticated drinks, a dash of the theatrical and extravagant decor, try Nick & Nora’s Melbourne for your pre-dinner drinks
Bouvardia has just won the Time Out Food & Drink Awards 2023: Best Cocktail Bar Award.
We are chuffed to bits for the team at Bouvardia, but also slightly miffed that we might find it harder to book a table from now on!