At catty-corners with the Fitzroy Town Hall lies the almost equally venerable Napier Hotel. Founded in 1866, it’s an atmospheric old-style pub with its original high ceilings, decorative plasterwork and stained-glass windows intact. Animal heads stare down from the walls, and the shelves are loaded with statuettes, old toys and other tchotchkes accumulated over many years.
In summer, the powerful air conditioning draws sighs of relief from punters as they enter, though most eventually pass through to the narrow, sheltered courtyard to the rear. The main bar room is festooned with faded and dusty Fitzroy Lions memorabilia – even the floral arrangement is in team colours. But there’s thankfully much more to the Napier than AFL.
Upstairs lies an artist-run exhibition space and both the music and the game are always kept at a low volume, which encourages conversation and helps keep proceedings civilised.
The menu is fairly traditional – heavy on the steaks and burgers – including the Bogan Burger: steak, bacon, chicken schnitzel, a fried egg, beetroot, cheese, tomato, pineapple and a hash brown, spiked with a cocktail umbrella for a touch of class. How it tastes is pretty much beside the point: it’s not so much a meal as a gauntlet. After a while the coleslaw on the side begins to look more appetising than the burger, because at least the coleslaw isn’t trying to kill you. Neither is the beer, and with 11 varieties on tap and more in the fridge there’s something for every taste.
The Napier is the best of both worlds: a relaxed, old- fashioned Aussie pub without a pokie machine, stag party or sticky carpet in sight.