Is Melbourne’s Apollo Inn Australia’s best bar?

In 1844 one of Melbourne’s first public houses, the Apollo Inn, opened on the corner of Flinders Lane & Russell St. In 2023, that site is home to what is considered Melbourne’s (or is that Australia’s?) finest restaurant – Gimlet.

Nearby, the new Apollo Inn is the latest from Chef Andrew McConnell and partner Jo McGann’s taste-making restaurant group Trader House. The Apollo Inn is self-described as “our ode to the ageless art of the cocktail, the bar, the bartender and the drinker”.

While a companion venue to Gimlet, the Apollo Inn is nonetheless entirely different, and some might say low-key. It is most definitely a welcome addition to Melbourne’s McConnell/McGann epicurean empire as their first standalone bar.

The Space

Opening the oversized red, studded leather doors and pushing past the velvet curtain, we step into the softly-lit bar. Subdued with the air of a private club, the premium spirits glow invitingly like the treasures they are. It’s cosy – sitting just 28 drinkers.

We arrived just a few moments after opening on a grey Friday. Host Chris Young escorts us to the bar, and before we have a chance to warm our bar stools, he utters the six little words that warm my heart, “we make an excellent dry martini”.

Next, with martinis ordered we settle in to watch Bar Manager Cam Parish’s cocktail skills up close. The intimate space feels very Paris circa the 1960s. I half expect Alain Delon to nonchalantly stroll in, Gauloises hanging loosely from his lips.

Low-ceilinged, the timber-panelled walls lay bare except for a few framed art pieces. An inlaid-stone topped bar anchors the modest space with Thonet-style stools. Deco-styled chandeliers get welcome backup from small, pleated cloth-shaded lamps on each round marble tabletop.

An elongated banquette contours the wall. As walk-ins, we’re happy to snag a spot at the bar to take in all the action.

The Drinks

Heeding the maxim, ‘if it ain’t broke …”. the old-school classics have been refreshed, not re-invented. All ingredients are premium and well-considered. Quality gins, vodkas, whiskies, vermouth, and more sit happily alongside many housemade elements, including Grand Marnier.

The Martinis

Martinis run four ways – Dry, Dirty, Gibson and Caffé.

When it comes to dry martinis, it is the same as great Margherita pizza; there is nowhere to hide. Ingredients must be top-notch while the preparation is exacting. Ice until it tumbles out of the glass for the Apollo Inn’s stirred, not shaken dryer than dry.

Per the drinks list, dry martinis are made with The Botanist Islay Gin and Scarpa Extra Dry vermouth. Cameron Parrish, the Apollo Inn Bar Manager, uses skin contact and unfiltered Scarpa Extra Dry vermouth to ensure maximum dryness without hinting sweetness.

Gibsons also feature Scarpa’s seductive vermouth macerated with a secret blend of herbs, spices, sugar and citrus, Tanqueray and cucumber brine. Like it dirty? That means vodka and gin: Tried & True and Four Pillars Olive Leaf gin and brine. For post-dinner, a Caffé also goes a little rogue with cold brew, not espresso, Ketel One Vodka, Fino and for a luxurious finish – dulce de leche.

Regarding Signature cocktails, the crimson Lucien Gaudin is pretty in the glass and a delight on the palate. It’s a delightful amalgam of Tanqueray gin, Campari, Scarpa extra dry vermouth, and housemade Grand Marnier – the French take on the Negroni. There’s a Chicago Fizz made with agricole rum and for the adventurous a Picon Biere – lager poured over amaro.

But wait. There’s more. The John McClain sounds like a winner; Talisker is a 10-year-old Whisky with Teeling Irish Whiskey, Nikka from The Barrell, bitters and vanilla. If you want something a little less grown-up, maybe the Pinky Gonzalaz with Don Julio 1942, smoky mezcal, Curacao, lime, and fermented green almond is fun in a glass.

For those doing Dry July, there is the Rossini with non-alcoholic Rosé, fermented strawberry, peach and jasmine or the Nomosa with alcohol-free riesling, mandarin, orange blossom and lemongrass.

The Food

The Apollo Inn might be without a kitchen, but there’s a rotating list of bar bites from freshly-shucked oysters on ice and Abrolhos Island scallops on the shell over ice to soppressata salumi on toast and a prawn and spanner crab club sandwich. Raw tuna tops pork sobrasada on a baguette and, if you’re lucky, a cheese toastie.

Rightfully, there are Spanish potato chips to dip and nuts roasted with a hint of chilli and spice. And there’s always something sweet too. Creme Caramel sits elegantly and elevated ready to be sliced.

Why it’s so good

From the moment we walk in we know we’re not just in any bar. Immediately, we know we are in the hands of professionals who are in pursuit of only one thing; ensuring each and every guest has a very good time.

We leave reluctantly. We have G & T’s followed by dinner elsewhere.

Open daily 5 pm-1 am and from 3 pm Fridays. Bookings here.

The Apollo Inn, 165 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.

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