We can’t lie. We’re usually sucked in here by the meaty, cheesy allure of Sparrow’s Philly Cheesesteaks. The all-American sandwich hut lives between the front bar at Catfish and a sunny courtyard out back, selling the squishy steak buns and jalapeno-studded chilli fries Fitzroy can’t get enough of. But Catfish, the reinvention of grungy musical dive Gertrude’s Brown Couch into a brews-, blues- and whisky-loving local is packing charm all of its own.
It’s nothing fancy to look at. When Kieran Michael and Michael Shaughnessy took over, most of the work involved stripping things back. A handful of tall bar tables, a chalkboard of weekly rotating beers and a black-and-white portrait of an old geezer (they don’t know who, but they’ll happily make up a story for anyone who asks) are the only things jazzing up the solid little brick bunker. And when we say solid, we mean it – ten steps inside, you lose phone reception. But this is the sort of place where you won’t need Facebook for company.
Throughout the week, exciting hair abounds as folk and rock bands lug gear upstairs for gigs. The rest of the time, Mississippi blues and New Orleans jazz rattles the speakers and there’s a steady stream of chat coming from over the bar. One visit is enough to get your name logged in Michael’s brain vault, and you’ll see him dispensing as many high fives as pints.
At high noon on the weekend, half the bar stools are occupied by locals, piecing together their Fitzroy Friday night over mustardy, peppery Bloody (‘Muddy’) Marys. They’re good – a tight balance of citrus and spice and yours for just $10 on a Sunday.
This is also becoming a spiritual home for beer fans. They’ve got longnecks of Coopers in the fridge for the crowd who won’t drink anything else, but the lines belong to different brewers every week. It might be Bridge Road’s chestnut lager – smashable summery freshness in a pint – and Cavalier’s take-no-prisoners IPA, hitting you with hops even at arms length. Chances are both will be a distant memory on your visit – they usually get one keg of most things which makes each visit a tasty game of beer roulette.
Gertrude Street is already a well-soaked run, but they’re boots-in committed to showing you a good time here. And have one you will.