Adelaide’s laneway scene has emerged suddenly and spectacularly to become a vital part of city life. Indeed when referring to Adelaide’s network of city passages, one now writes Laneways with a capital L.
The rise was empowered by generous City Council rates, an eagerly-awaited small bar licence (introduced in 2013) and a bunch of Adelaidians looking to pop-up and take a risk. It didn’t hurt that their emergence also coincided with the opening of the new Adelaide Oval, which brought substantial foot traffic into the city.
The result is a cheerful patchwork of small bars and restaurants that has brought the city to life. Though Adelaide’s bar scene is smaller than Melbourne’s, it is younger, fresher and getting stronger by the day.
Two distinct colonies of laneways, the east and the west – split by the regal boulevard of King William Street – has created a booming social scene throughout the CBD, with plenty for bar-goers to explore after dark.
Here are some of the best spots to end your day.
The west side story
This is where it all started, on the parallel lanes of Leigh and Peel Streets, now often uttered as the singular entity of ‘Leigh/Peel’.
This is the home of two local bar heroes, their quality evidenced by the fact that they popped up at the very beginning and stayed. Udaberri has been winning awards since it opened in 2014, and so too has the charismatic Clever Little Tailor. Both are smooth and serious about their drinks, but accessible to all.
Casablabla offers lots of happy colour (as well as Latin dance after the cocktails have flowed) while subterranean Maybe Mae is a speakeasy bar with great energy and style. La Rambla Tapas Bar is a beautiful renovation of a three-storey stone warehouse that’ll make you feel like you’ve landed on Barcelona’s famous boulevard. Work your way through its 40-plus cocktail list.
The biggest kid on the block, at the other end of the spectrum, is Pink Moon Saloon, a gorgeous little timber cubby that’s just 3.7m wide. The snappy cocktail list includes a delectable rhubarb iced tea or pineapple mule.
There’s tequila at Chihuahua, Serbian fruit brandy at Kaffana and sake at Gondola Gondola. The most recent opening is Alfred’s Bar, which pays homage to the Aussie front bar – who says hipsters don’t do irony?
Leigh and Peel run perpendicular to Hindley Street, Adelaide’s version of King’s Cross. The Laneways draw some edginess (and foot traffic) from the connection.
Hindley is also the entry point for a number of other laneways, which are similarly getting a makeover. Gilbert Place is home to Hains & Co, a beautiful award-winning bar with a nautical theme. Get into the spirit with a Dark ‘n’ Stormy.
Gresham Street has three cheek-by-jowl baby bars – La Buvette, Missippi Moon and the literary genius that is the Bibliothecha Bar and Book Exchange. Move south and you’ll discover the completely revamped Topham Mall including Lady Burra Brewhouse, a lively microbrewery of fairy lights, fiery food and timber packing crates. Head here for a taste of its signature paella served on Friday and Saturday nights.
Finally, the western laneways region will very much continue to grow: $14.6m is being invested to upgrade and stimulate a north-south chain of laneways running from North Terrace, along Leigh/Peel, through the business bar precinct of Waymouth Street and down to the Adelaide Central Markets on Gouger Street.
Watch these spaces.
And the eastern gems
This nexus of laneways – at this stage comprising Ebenezer Place, Vardon Avenue and Union Street – offers a gentler, compact and more urbane retreat.
The whole area is easy on the eye, located in and around the beautiful facades of 1904 Fruit and Produce Exchange.
Today, Ebenezer and Vardon present as leafy and lively, cut off from the traffic but still packing colour and commerce. They also benefit from being flanked on two sides by the considerable pavement dining scenes of Rundle Street and East Terrace.
The newcomer to Ebenezer is Nola, another lovely stone renno with super-smooth interior styling. This two-storey retreat dedicates itself to 16 craft beers on tap and fine whiskey. On Union Street, behind a fairly innocuous frontage is Mr Goodbar, a three-storey shrine to mixology with 120 cocktails listed at last count. Food-wise they serve gourmet bar snacks like Jamaican beef patties, charcuterie boards and blue swimmer crab cakes.
The east end laneway scene is certainly on the move with no shortage of lanes and urban nooks sparring off both Rundle Street and the pedestrianised Rundle Mall shopping precinct.
Check out eponymous Lindes Lane wine bar, keeping the party humming above ground; while deep below ground is a huge period fireplace which swings open to reveal the Barlow Room ‘Guitar and Bar Room’.
James Place has recently blossomed with small eateries and quirky outlets, but it’s also home to the well-hidden Coffee Pot. This is a genuine time capsule of the 1980s Australian bar experience – one which has had its décor and trappings consciously preserved by new owners who have a love for 80s cocktails. Have fun finding it – no one said time travel should be easy!
Virgin Australia flies to Adelaide from all major Australian cities. Most major hire car companies are at Adelaide Airport.