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22 January, 2021

Cairns' small bar scene

MELBOURNE kicked off the small bar trend in Australia in the early 90’s after the changing of their liquor licencing laws, starting a whole new way to socialise and drink.

By Phil Brandel

Sydney then tweaked the trend by placing their bars in hard to find locations. Now the trend has moved north with Cairns residents moving away from large boisterous pubs and embracing the thriving small bar scene.

Andrew Para pouring drinks at the Fox Small Bar in Stratford.

The Fox Small Bar.

The Fox Small bar (or the Fox as locals refer to it) has only been opened for about 2 weeks and already it’s getting rave reviews. The latest addition to The Hospo Group (Three Wolves, etc), The Fox describes itself as “A local neighbourhood small bar in the heart of Stratford with an extensive wine, gin and cocktail list. The Fox is small, but it has the Hospo speakeasy feel and you can choose to drink inside at the bar or at one of the outside tables.

Part owner and Manager Andrew Pare said they were looking at doing something different and away from the CBD. “This neighbourhood is full of people, who now don’t have to go into the CBD, they can all chill closer to home.”

Signature drink – The DIY Old Fashioned which is a twist on the classic Old Fashioned. You are given all the tools to create your perfect Old Fashioned.

Signature Dish – DIY cheese and meat board.

The Fox is opened from Wednesday to Sunday from 2pm.
Shop 4, 9 Kamerunga Rd, Stratford


Wolf Lane Distillery - get in early because this bar is small and gets busy

Wolf Lane Distillery

Just opposite the Three Wolves bar is the Wolf Lane Distillery, a small bar and small distillery all under one roof.

If you’re into Gin, this is the place for you. Not only can you try Wolf Lane’s award-winning gin and liquors you get to sit right next to where they were made. The distillery opened in 2019 and the bar opened in June 2020.

While the bar specialises in Gin there’s a whole range of other cocktails and Australian spirits that you can try.

Signature drink – Davidson Plum Sour – Wolf Lane Davidson Plum Gin, Lemon Sugar and Aquafaba.

Signature dish – Small Charcuterie

The Cellar Door and Distillery are open to the public
from Monday - Friday 10am - 4pm

Wolf Lane Distillery Bar is open Thursday to Saturday from 4pm till late and Sunday from 2pm till late. Wolf Lane - 30 Abbott Street, Cairns.


Behind this door is a hidden bar

The Library Bar

Unbeknown to most Cairns locals, there is a hidden bar inside the casino. It’s so hidden it took me a few times to find it. The Library Bar is downstairs in the Paramour Theatre. As you go down the stairs you will notice an innocuous looking book shelf, look hard and you will see a doorknob, pull and step inside.

Paramour Theatre owner operator Wes Evans said the bar opened November 2019 “The Library bar is part of the Paramour Theatre and is only open to theatre goers before the show, but once the show is finished (around 9.30pm) it’s thrown open to the public,” he said. “Every night our cocktails can change as we have a thing called the bartenders selection.”

Signature drink – The Big Willy – A yard glass full of Midori, Malibu, Blue Curacao and pineapple juice.

Signature dish – Antipasto platter

The Library Bar is open Friday and Saturday nights after the show,  downstairs inside the Reef Hotel Casino 35-41 Wharf St, Cairns.



Laneway Cairns has a very Melbourne feel to it

Laneway Cairns

Another bar which has chosen to concentrate on locals by positioning itself away from the CBD is The Laneway Cairns bar which is on Mulgrave Road in Westcourt. Part owner Matty Bonasia opened the bar in June 2019 and said the bar is focused on locals. “Being outside the CBD we don’t get a lot of tourists, most of our business is local.”

Sitting in an unused lane beside Motel Nomad it feels like you could be in a laneway in Melbourne albeit while being surrounded by tropical plants and palms.

“Being a laneway bar it gets a lot of comparisons to bars in Melbourne,” Matty said.

Signature drink – The Poco Loco – Vanilla bean syrup, caramelised pineapple, fresh passion fruit and vodka.

Signature Dish - Pad Thai 

Laneway Cairns is open Tuesday to Saturday from
5pm till late at 314 Mulgrave Rd, Westcourt.


Ben Pape mixing up a storm at Cairns’ first small bar – Three Wolves

Three Wolves.

Hidden down a red brick laneway in the heart of the CBD, Three Wolves is the grandfather of small bars in Cairns. This was the Hospo Group’s first Bar in Cairns. Opening in late October 2016, this bar reset the paradigm of what a cool bar looked like in Cairns.  Choosing to hide themselves down a side ally just adds to the sophistication. Manager and part owner Ben Pape said Three Wolves was the bar that started everything. “It was the first small bar in Cairns,” he said.  “It was inspired by small bars in Sydney, London and New York. Before it came along there was nothing like it in Cairns.” Three Wolves is open from 4pm - 7 days a week.

Signature drink – Smoke on the water – Makers Mark, bitters and cinnamon syrup.

Signature dish – Baked on Red Hill mini sourdough with assorted dips and smoked butter. 

Three Wolves is open from 4pm - 7 days a week. 
- Wolf Lane - 30 Abbott Street, Cairns.


Megs Douglas firing up the signature Zombie cocktail at Flamingos Tiki Bar

Flamingos Tiki Bar

Also part of the Hospo Group, Flamingos opened just over 2 years ago in an unused space below the Pacific Hotel on the Esplanade. Channelling classic older bars like Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s, the bar and the drinks have a distinctive tiki flavour with lots of rum and juice.

Manager Megs Douglas said they are going for the slight underground hidden feel. “We are trying to channel a speakeasy vibe and the fact that we are just below the footpath adds to that character,” she said.

“It makes it seem kind of secret but also accessible at the same time.

“One of the cool things about Flamingos is that we have team with international experience, we have staff from London, Dublin, Italy and Australia.”

Signature drink – The Zombie

Signature Food – only small bar snacks

Open 7 days a week from 4pm – Midnight. 43 Esplanade, Cairns City.


Owner Ross Stevens about to ‘uncork’ one of his signature bottles of champagne.

The Conservatory Bar

If you’re looking for a quiet bar with an extensive wine list the Conservatory bar is for you. Originally opened 5 years ago, Ross Stevens bought the bar just before COVID hit last year, calling it an ‘amazing decision and timing’.

“We had it for 2 weeks and then we had to close,” he said.

“The reason I bought it was because I’ve been in the industry and long time and I’ve always worked with wine, so it seemed like a natural progression. 

 “We are more of a wine bar and we have drinks like the Penfolds RWT 1999 Shiraz, that’s a $300 bottle of wine but we sell it by the glass,“So that people can come in and try it without having to by the whole bottle.”

Signature drink – The Old Fashioned. – Bundaberg Solera, Maple syrup, aromatic bitters and apple wood smoke.

Signature Dish – Create your own grazing board.

Open Tuesday to Saturday 4pm till late, 12/14 Lake St, Cairns City.


Elixir Music Bar is the place to go see live music in a funky small space

Elixir Music Bar

If live music is more your thing, then Elixir Music Bar in Abbott street just may be your vibe.Opened in May 2017 by father and daughter team Bill Shields and Sky Rixon due to them wanting a live music venue to call their own. “We love music, music for me is something that brings everybody together,” Sky said.

“We are going for that underground live music theme and we are little alternative and artsy.

“We are a funky little underground bar that will be your home away from home.”

Signature Drink – Margarita

Signature dish – Fried chicken

Open from Wednesday to Sunday from 7pm with
live entertainment every night.

92 Abbott Street Cairns.

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