We've had American speakeasies. We've had Mexican saloons. And now here's Sweetwater Inn: a 'Strayan-come-American dive bar serving hickory smoked lamb burgers, $5 Fosters tinnies and apple juice and Jack in a corrugated-iron warehouse. "It's like drinking in your dad's shed," owner Mark Catsburg tells us. We reckon it’s like Wagga does Wild West.
Lean on the bar rail beneath the lazily rotating ceiling fan with a Monteith’s Pale ale and a banger board. That’s a trio of kransky snags with a compliment of hot English mustard, relishes and little gherkins.
The original plan was to do a straight American dive bar, but mid-construction Catsburg and booze comrades Benn Wood and Guy Bentley (who trod the boards together at the Grace Darling) decided that was a dead horse already well flogged, and put an ocker spin on the theme.
The barrels-turned-tables, taxidermy hawk and saloon-style piano/hot sauce station still pledge allegiance to the star spangled banner but a fridge full of VB and a bar menu with strass is Oz as. Nothing recalls a suburban childhood of skinned knees and flap hats like cheap pink deli meat in white bread with tomato sauce. Get one. It comes with a mug of crisps just like proper recess.
They love a juiced up highball here. Go an Emma Chiset – beetroot-infused vodka and fresh squeezed Granny Smiths charged with soda and topped with a flourish of dill. It’s really savoury – a bit like eating an apple covered in dirt, but in a really refreshing way. And it’s only $10 – something victims of ritualistic South Yarra wallet floggings will appreciate.
They do a hell of a riff on a spicy Bloody Mary too. It’s called the Kevin Bacon, and it comes, as you may have guessed, punctuated with a spear of crisped pig. But hold your bacon-rage animal lovers. For every meaty drink and snack there’s a great vegetarian – even vegan – counterpoint.
Go a chip buttie with cheese, beetroot, pickled onions and a fried egg in a fluffy roll, or hit up some I-can’t-believe-they’re-not-prawn skewers made from konjac (meat imitation product du jour). We can believe it, but grilled and doused in barbecue sauce they're not bad.
The Chapel Street drinking scene just keeps getting better. The Woods of Windsor and Kid Boston added some cocktail sophistication to the strip last year, and for us, this is the fun, cheap-as cherry on the cake.
Hats off to you Sweetwater Inn. You're a bloody mongrel, but a good egg.