It’s no easy thing to create a bar capable of standing out in an area that is quite literally one of Melbourne’s best known drinking destinations. Yet, when Near & Far opened on Brunswick Street towards the close of 2019, it immediately filled a gap in a suburb famed for its bars, pubs and late-night haunts.
For all the diverse delights to be discovered on Brunswick Street, it lacked a neighbourhood craft beer bar. Now Near & Far, with its wall of rotating taps and stuffed-to-the-gills fridges, has filled that gap, it’s easy to wonder how the strip went so long without it.
The man behind the bar and bottleshop is Jason Cameron, who has previous when it comes to bringing craft beer to drinkers. Prior to opening Near & Far, he spent years introducing British beer drinkers to Australian craft beer before starting to bring some of the best breweries from the UK, Europe and North America to these shores.
It’s that career in craft beer that helps explain the Near & Far of the venue’s name: not only will you be met by an array of beer sourced from both near and far, the term is also Cockney rhyming slang for bar. Walk in at any time and you’re likely to spot a local lager sitting beside a double IPA from the other side of the planet, with both looked after as they made the journey to Melbourne, regardless of whether they were brewed in Brisbane or Bristol.
Beyond the impressive and ever-changing tap list, Near & Far’s many elements make it a quintessential local boozer, one filled with regulars and where it’s easy to realise you too have become one of those regulars.
The long, narrow, softly lit venue is reminiscent of a cosy New York bar; there are stools facing onto Brunswick Street, spots along the bar, and booths into which it’s easy to sink for hours. You could just as easily wile away time on the pool table towards the rear, but if you stop there you miss out on one of Near & Far’s greatest delights.
Head upstairs and it feels like walking into a Fitzroy share house: the collection of old couches and furniture can make it feel like you’re drinking in a mate’s lounge – if that friend had clean glassware and was kind enough to pour a lambic for you upon arrival.
Grab one of the window seats and the view onto Brunswick Street makes for a perfect vantage point from which to enjoy a beer as trams pass slowly move by, whether it’s on a cold and rainy Melbourne night or a long day of summer. Add in the small, sofa-filled room complete with its own cassette player – one that regulars frequently load with their own tapes so they can relive the best of 1980s with a side of IPA – and it makes for one of those special spots you both want to tell people about and keep for yourself.
Since 2021, the Near & Far bottleshop has been operating next door to the bar, featuring nine beer fridges filled with hundreds of beers, as well as a curated selection of wines. Any of those can be brought into the bar to be enjoyed with a small corkage fee.
The space also hosts one of Melbourne’s finest sandwich joints, Jolly Good. It started out as a COVID-lockdown pop-up but has since amassed a cult following, with new specials appearing on weekends. The bottleshop has a further four beer taps too, which helps ensure afternoons along Rose and Brunswick streets are buzzing.
Having opened just before COVID forced the city’s venues to spend large swathes of a two-year period closed, Near & Far’s lengthy opening hours for takeaways, and a growler home delivery service, helped embed it in the rituals of many Fitzroy locals. And as the city came back to life, its hospo nights, live comedy, pool comps, footy tipping and regular beer events saw its appeal stretch beyond that five kilometre radius.
Brunswick Street has long held a reputation as a destination for drinking, dining and dancing; now, whether you’re visiting from afar for a tap showcase, or grabbing a four-pack and sandwich close to home, Near & Far has boosted the strip’s craft credentials considerably.