We’re talking boozers. Scruffy-round-the-edges, saggy-couch-possessing, history-riddled houses of beers and tat. Sometimes, there’s music. Often there’s a fire. Occasionally, you have the chance to win a meat tray. That’s a pub. These are our favourites
The Great Britain is a uniter of all. It’s a champion of indie bands, possessor of a massive split-level beer garden, fireplace and pinball machine. Not to mention purveyor of craft beers and Piss. Yeah, you heard us. They made their own lager (Piss) so they didn’t have to serve big company beers. Slightly scuffed, the pub’s got the feel of a well-worn loafer. Wednesday is open-mic night if you reckon you’ve got some musical skills. If not, claim an overstuffed couch, sit back and get a pizza from across the road delivered direct to your seat. By the way, that’s not Chairman Mao, nor George from Seinfeld pictured above the door. It’s that political hero of British India, Doctor Ambedkar. Richmond.
Head here early in the week for a counter meal, a pint or two, a cosy seat by the wood stove and trivia on Tuesday nights. Pretension is an anathema to the Standard, so much so that they even went through a period in the early ’90s when they refused to serve anyone in a suit – score one for the underdogs. Outside, the white and green paintwork is chipped and faded, while inside bare bricks peek out from between movie posters, sports memorabilia and the novelty-sized records that cram the walls. The taps boast more craft beers than mega-brews, and the wines are from the easy-drinking school. But you’d best get started early because this old boozer hits the hay early – expect to be moving on or heading home by 11pm. Fitzroy.
Rumour has it that when police would raid the illegal gambling ring at the Tote (back in the day), people would make a swift getaway thanks to a tunnel that ran to the cellar at the Fox. Tunnel or not, this is on our list for an end-of-days pub. There are craft beers on tap, mulled cider and wine for when the weather turns foul, and they do a two-course Sunday roast for $22. Add a collection of board games, communal books above the fireplace and a seriously well stocked fridge of reserve beers and we say, “Come at us, triffi ds!” Even though you’re sitting on thundering Alexandra Parade, you’d never know it thanks to the thick glass and sturdy walls that keep the apocalypse out and the good times firmly inside this old corner boozer. Collingwood.
This is a rock’n’roll boozer where the carpet is sticky and the service is pleasantly indifferent. It’s the grand dame of North Melbourne, a suburb blessed with the wide-hipped streets and deserted air of a country town. They love four things at the THH: gigs, big parmas, trivia and Jesus Christ. Paintings of JC decorate a dining room bathed in the red hue of frilly lamps where you’re as likely to find a bunch of ladies holding a book club as heavy metal enthusiasts eating lentil shepherd’s pie and drinking jugs of Coopers. The front bar is festooned with rock memorabilia, and the back garden has all the fixings to keep you entertained from a pool table to heated shelter – for those who view smoking as a sport. North Melbourne.
This is a classic grungy gig pub with faded green carpets and a lingering hint of tobacco that will never go away. Classic rock anthems feature strongly in the large record collection, as does country music – it’s something of a far-flung outpost of Nashville. The bar hosts bands one or two nights a week, with an emphasis on Americana. There’s a rooftop beer garden for summer days and an amiable crush of old and young rockers and tradies in plaid shirts to keep you warm on winter nights. Always a workers’ pub, the Labour hits terminal busyness on a Friday night when locals gather around to bitch about The Man. Although now there’s more graphic design than grouting chat. Fitzroy.
The building is a classic – wide at one end and coming to a point on a street corner – a sandstone structure that glows gold at night. Lightly tattered curtains hang over the arched windows in the narrow front bar where locals cram in on Thursdays for live jazz and funk. If you like your boozer relaxed but your actual booze a little fancy, they’ve got you sorted. The Pinnacle is a haven of tasty craft beers and even has a ‘meet the brewer’ beer club that gathers on the first Wednesday of every month. The courtyard is overhung with vines and has a stage where live bands play – making this a winning spot for Sunday arvo sessions. Fitzroy North.
The Railway has been intoxicating South Melbourne’s inhabitants forever. Even back when Sunday boozing was off-limits, they’d operate speakeasy-style from the house next door (which is now the leafy beer garden). It’s also played backdrop to Spielberg’s wartime drama The Pacific. Exhausted TV production assistants sink pitchers of James Squire at the front bar’s high tables, and weathered regulars claim the leather chairs by the fire. They get a little fancy with the odd Asian-style duck salad in the bistro, but we can’t and won’t go past Wednesday’s $15 porterhouse steak night. Sadly, the resident cat just passed away (RIP), but the Railway carries on. South Melbourne.
The Chief is a middle-of-the-way pub. Which means that your pints are reasonably priced but your parma comes with a fancy rocket salad. Here you’ll find crusty locals sticking barnacle-like to the bar, and suits who come to peacock on Friday nights over Fat Yaks and decent wines. Pass by the bank of pool tables and discover a ’70s-style dining room of Laminex tables where they do a roaring lunchtime trade in steaks and burgers. One wall is lined with firewood for chocking the open fire; there’s a rooftop terrace for taking in sunsets; and come rugby season, every Kiwi expat in town shows up to yell at the telly. South Melbourne.
The Public Bar no longer offers $1 pots of Geelong Bitter, but we still reckon there are lots of reasons to love this pub. There’s just something about the soft red lights illuminating peeling paint and couches that sink to a degree that prevents escape past four pints of Carlton. It’s here you’ll discover obscure bands playing metal and swamp-funk and their even more obscure fans. Drink deals draw the backpackers from the nearby hostel, but they also have White Rabbit Ale and other grown-up brews by the bottle and a recent takeover of the kitchen by Dr Juicy Jay’s Crab Shack means there’s boiled shrimp and fried chicken to light up your Thursday. The toilets promise an olfactory journey like no other, but we love it. They just don’t make them like this anymore. North Melbourne.
With its Staminade-green façade, pink elephant guardians, tiki courtyard and red velvet banquettes, the Windsor Castle may not look like an old school local – nor, in fact, like Windsor Castle. And true, on Sundays you’re more likely to find hot young things getting it on than old salts telling tales at the bar. But it ticks the boxes where it counts. Turn off Chapel and brave the disconcertingly dark side street and you’ll be rewarded with an open fire, a soundtrack of rock, and carby counter meals that favour the Ps (pies, parmas, pizzas). If you’re freaked out by the antlers and taxidermy peacocks, take comfort in the fact that they’ve at least had some professionals in to exorcise the human ghosts. Really. Windsor.