Let’s be blunt: no one goes to Byron Bay for its bars.
Yet while drinking here once meant necking a beer near a bikie or sculling a tinny on the beach, these days you have your pick of great bars to choose from. My top four are:
A margarita is a simple drink to make – and yet so many bartenders butcher it.
Miss Margarita lives up to its name by making margaritas that are as good as you can get anywhere in the world – and as someone who’s been drinking them for over 20 years in countless bars, I don’t say that lightly.
The margarita list here is long – you can have them made with coconut, pineapple, even chipotle-infused mezcal – but after drinking my way through the backbar (and my wallet) I recommend sticking with the classic.
The food here is also better than your average Mexican (I recommend the enchiladas) and the service was upbeat and chirpy on all three of my tequila-fuelled visits.
Miss Margarita doesn’t take bookings, so prepare to put your name down at the door and wait.
Miss Margarita. 2 Jonson St, Byron Bay. See the Miss Margarita website
The Bolthole feels more like a Melbourne laneway bar than anything you’d expect to find in Byron.
There are chesterfield sofas, a copper bar counter, candles, Edison bulbs, a deer head on the wall … and more importantly, a cocktail list that also belongs in Melbourne.
The drink I recommend here is the Smoke and a Pancake, which is made from Woodford Reserve bourbon, a mix of organic maple syrup and banana syrup, Angostura and Xocolatl mole bitters, plus a spray of 10-year-old Laphroaig single malt.
The spray of Laphroaig gives the drink a great smoky aroma and helps make this drink feel like a sea-faring version of an old fashioned.
For those who don’t take their cocktails as seriously as I do, you can also order the Bolthole’s namesake cocktail – which judging from my interrogation of the waitress seems to be a coconut with a mini bottle of rum poured into it.
I was actually tempted.
The blues music here is a welcome relief from the usual Byron Bay surf soundtrack you hear in every other bar and café, plus they serve BBQ pork ribs that are smoked on the premises.
The Bolthole. 9 Fletcher St, Byron Bay. See The Bolthole website.
The only other bar in town I would head to for an old fashioned cocktail is St Elmo, a swish Spanish tapas bar – yet the reason I recommend this place is more for their wine list.
While it’s easy to get a good beer in Byron (almost every bar stocks Stone and Wood, which is both the local brew and one of my favourites), wine is a different matter.
The food here is designed to be shared – think sizzling garlic prawns, pork belly with chorizo and cider, arroz negro (black rice) with cuttlefish and chilli, etc – and the service is professional and friendly.
In short, it’s worth checking out.
St. Elmo Dining Room & Bar. 22 Fletcher St, Byron Bay. See the St. Elmo website
The Mez Club
Feeling like a nightclub from Casablanca, this two-story Mediterranean bar/restaurant has white-washed walls, a thatched roof, ambient dance music, rattan light shades, candles, curtains, arches and a circular design that makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the action regardless of where you sit.
I’m listing it here for three reasons:
- During a whole week of gorging myself in Byron, the best meal I had was here (the lamb koftas … oh, the koftas!).
- The cocktails are reliably good (I recommend their gin and tonics and mojitos).
- The atmosphere is unlike any other bar I’d been to in a long time. Most bars and restaurants in Byron make you feel like just another tourist surrounded by backbackers – but this actually felt like I was in some exotic locale. With great koftas.
The Mez Club. 4/85-87 Jonson St, Byron Bay. See The Mez Club website