Bars in the Valley Mall are renowned for getting messy, especially on weekends. Although the Brunswick Social is only a stone’s throw from the riffraff, the vibe is a world apart. Getting boozed is still the main game, but a few deviations from the standard Valley watering-hole formula makes everything a damn sight more civilised here.
For starters, it’s tucked away below street level in the cavernous basement of the old Sun Newspaper building with invitingly spacious décor. Polished concrete floors complement the original red-brick walls, while potted banana palms, rustic timber stools and candlelight inject warmth. Unlike neighbouring establishments, there’s seating aplenty, and table service all the way – no elbowing your way past hordes of spotty youths to get to the bar.
It’s a cocktail-and-beer kind of place, and while the drinks menu won’t win any prizes for innovation, it’s a solid selection of favourites including Mojitos, Negronis, Martinis and Bellinis, all served with cheery paper umbrellas and striped straws for around $16 a pop. Beers are mostly big-name bottled European and Asian staples along with boutique Australian brews like Burleigh, Stone and Wood and Little Creatures. There’s less than a dozen wines by the glass, most of them Australian and under $10.
Dumplings are $8 for three pieces, and of those sampled, the standout is a prawn and bamboo number (that we didn’t actually order but hey – gift horses). The fresh flavour and texture of juicy prawn meat and crunchy diced bamboo in perfectly cooked translucent wrappers make it a cut above, whereas dry, barely warm steamed pork buns have perhaps taken too long to reach us, and refuse to budge from the paper on which they sit.
The dumplings might need some fine tuning, but the option of ordering real food with cocktails in the wee hours of the morning makes a nice change in these parts. The Brunswick Social adds a dose of decorum to the Valley bar scene, making other places look down-at-the-heel and downright anti-social in comparison.