Beneath Driver Lane
IF YOU LIKE cocktails, whisky, blues, good service and eating Reuben sandwiches at 2am, Beneath Driver Lane is your basement of dreams. Occupying an old bank strongroom in the CBD, this bar has a Harry Potter feeling that’s rare in a city whose subterranean spaces are sorely underused. If you remember the defunct Nant Whisky Bar, you’ll be familiar with the space, but the new guise feels much more lived-in. John Lee Hooker grinds his 12-bar over the soundwaves. Water bottles rest on vintage chrome serving trays, and drinks come on coasters of thick leather – the magic is in the details. The folks behind the bar are personable, knowledgeable and looking sharp in black chef coats. For a bit of wow factor, custom build your Martini in a delicate wine glglass chilled with swirling liquid nitrogen. Or geget tropical with the deliciously sweet and cocomplex Storm Master dominated by guava bubut with a refreshing sour finish. The floral swsweetness of a cucumber and lavender Old Fafashioned is a bit cloying without the balance of acid or significant bitterness. The huge baback bar holds a 100+ bottle selection of whwhiskies, including unicorns like Yamazaki 18 anand Pappy Van Winkle. While the wine bars of Melbourne serve some of the best plates in the city, cocktail and spirits bars often treat fofood as an afterthought. Not so here. The bar snacks, many of which are served right through till 2am, are some of the highlights, like the roasted heirloom beetroots beautifully presented on a bed of raisin, caper and dill puree, tossed with black lentils. Bar food never tasted this healthy. Morcilla sausage rolls are not for the faint of heart, the rich blood pudding and flaky pastry resting on relish deeply spiced with enough dried chilli to cause visions of Guadalajara. By 11pm the room is nearly full and the music starts to ramp up the tempo to match, but it stops short of raucous. And despite the classic styling, bartenders here won’t condescend, happily accommodating requests for “desserty shots”. With our national drinking culture still fighting against its dangerous and juvenile nature, it’s nice that places like this are encouraging us to drink better, without being judgemental.