For Bendigo's craft beer lovers these are increasingly exciting times, with better beer beginning to find a home in greater numbers of venues. And for that they should raise a glass to The Dispensary, as it was here that craft beer was given its first showcase in the city. Prior to the venue opening in 2009, the city was the very definition of a beer desert. Then Tim Baxter came along and opened this laneway gem into which he distilled two decades experience in hospitality in Australia and Europe, including spells at a classic UK pub, Fitzroy's iconic Standard Hotel (back when Nick Cave was a regular) and leading Mornington Peninsula winery Ten Minutes By Tractor, where their wine list was named Australia's best.
He created a venue that, were it in the Victorian capital, would have queues around the corner and rave reviews a mile long. It was here that many of the people who've taken up the baton to drive Bendigo's beer scene forward would meet, including those behind Bendigo Beer, some of whom took over The Dispensary from Tim in 2016.
Sam Bastian and his partners dropped "Enoteca" from the name and replaced it with "Bar & Diner", but much of what made the venues a standout remains. Central to that is a dedication to quality booze across the board, be that a broad selection of beers sourced the world over or the small producer spirits and wines.
The food offering was tweaked under new owners, with the likes of bao making an appearance, yet the offering remains a significant notch or two above what you'll come across at the vast majority of venues where the beer selection is this good. You can still come for a spot of fine dining; equally, you can pull up a pew and settle in for a few relaxed beers.
With just 22 seats at tables inside plus a few spots at the bar and a smattering of tables in the narrow laneway outside, it's a fine example of quality over quantity. Indeed, with an appealing lineup of cocktails, rockin' tunes spinning on the turntable and occasional laneway table tennis competitions, there's plenty to keep you coming back.