I come from Goulburn (home of the glorious Big Merino) and moving to Canberra was a revelation. Goulburn has a population of 20,000, a single nightclub, and maybe two quality bars. Meanwhile, our CBR has heaps of great bars, many of which I’ve spent the last year or so exploring (i.e. getting drunk at). Here are reviews of a few of the ones close to campus, from someone that maybe goes to them a little bit too often.
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The first time I got taken to Molly I was convinced that my friend and I were about to get murdered. This was back when Molly was in a different location, but the new spot is just as shady. The entrance is an unassuming door in a dark alley. The stairs inside are a bit of a challenge if you’re drunk. But the heart attacks that you might get on the way are worth it.
Walking into Molly feels like stepping into another world — or, perhaps more accurately, another decade, as it’s modelled after Prohibition-era speakeasies. Everything about it is perfect: the décor, the music, the drinks. Great mocktails, if you don’t want to drink.
The night Molly reopened, my best friend and I dressed up in fancy clothes and walked around Civic, pretending to be an old couple named Edward and Beatrice and trying to find its ‘secret’ location (don’t worry, it’s now on Google Maps). It’s easy to pretend to be someone you’re not at Molly, or to momentarily forget about your problems. Once you’re there, you exist in the moment, so it’s an incredible place to sit and talk. If you haven’t yet been, you’re certain to open your eyes a bit wider as soon as you step through its door.
“But Agata,” I hear you say, “downstairs Moose isn’t really a bar.” I respectfully disagree. Sure, it’s a tad too wild for that label after 11pm (always exactly 11pm — the moment crowds start trying to bum cigarettes off you as you walk past), but before then, it’s definitely a bar. I don’t have any evidence for this claim but I will stand by it.
I will not make the claim, however, that it is a good bar. I have fond memories of going there a couple of times with friends that have since moved away from Canberra, and sometimes it’s great to go to a place that’s as relaxed as it is. But there’s a reason most people only go to downstairs Moose when they can’t be bothered waiting in long lines for somewhere better, and it’s just as mediocre on less busy nights. This isn’t the place to go if you are after any class, any carefully crafted character or any atmosphere at all. It is definitely the place to go if you want to feel sleazy and to experience an increased chance of getting hit on by a bunch of random dudes you were definitely not sending signals to. Moose has a reputation for the male part of its clientele often overstepping the line with women, and stories of sexual harassment are way too common. This means that I get offered lots of free drinks, but also that I don’t really ever feel comfortable or safe there. I recommend going to Moose only if every other possible place is closed.
Reload is a video-game-themed bar, and it’s the place to go if you’re after a sensory overload. You can play video games while drinking (or not drinking), or play giant Jenga, or try weird board games with your friends. My friends always go straight to Mario Kart. I hate that because I’m very bad at it. (I’m a woman after all, and we all know that women can’t drive.) But that’s definitely not a reason to avoid Reload.
However, be aware that it is very much a male-dominated space, as unfortunately most places associated with ‘nerd’ culture tend to be. It’s easy to feel out of place in a bar where the vast majority of patrons are men. I’m absolutely not saying that anyone goes there to harass women, and I can’t think of any instances of people being unwelcoming to me there. It’s a great place to hang out, it’s just a tad harder to have fun when you’re one of the few women there.
I’m a transit-oriented teen (message me if you’d be up for helping me figure out how to get cars banned) and so I love any place that celebrates it, in any shape or form. Transit Bar is a fantastic live-music venue, and its karaoke nights on Tuesdays are legendary. (I literally never have done karaoke myself and always just stand at the back, but I’m building up the courage to do it, I promise!) On one Transit Tuesday, I made two Facebook friends in the bathrooms, after a big conversation that involved a huge circle of women blocking access to the sink for anyone that just wanted to wash their hands. If you’re not in the mood for crowds or loud music, you’re able to sit outside and engage in people watching. They also have a lovely selection of craft beers and ciders on tap. My best friend asked me to chuck in the fact that the bartender flirted with her there, as evidence that the bar is queer-friendly. It also has a history of holding events for the Queer community, such as Gay Cliché, so my friend’s analysis seems to be on point.
And, most importantly, to enter it you walk down a flight of stairs that make you feel like you’re walking into an underground metro station, which is something you won’t experience anywhere else in Canberra.
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Canberra isn’t Sydney or Melbourne, but it has a charm of its own that people don’t recognise quite enough. We have amazing bars, most of which I haven’t even mentioned here, because there’s just too many of them. We have an 80s themed bar with a light-up dance floor (88mph), a trans-pacific themed bar that will serve you cocktails in a coconut (Kokomo’s), a bar with an Alice in Wonderland theme that serves the dreamiest cocktails (White Rabbit), and, oh, so many more. Of course, just as there’s lots of hits, there’s heaps of misses. But in the end, Canberra has a great bar culture which everyone should spend a bit of time exploring. Just remember to not go too hard, to take care of yourself, and to have fun!