You’ll never find yourself alone in the Carlton Club. Once a byword for dodgy and now one of the few worthwhile pubs on Bourke Street mall, it’s usually busy with a clientele ranging from girls in cocktail dresses to bogans in their best Ed Hardy shirts. But there’s another, quieter company that’s often looking over your shoulder – a collection of exotic animals, dead, stuffed and adorning the walls of every room. It’s hard to imagine where they all came from, but they’re certainly eye-catching: there are peacocks and parrots, shadow boxes filled with specimens biological and botanical and an ostrich wearing an enormously long pearl choker.
Over near the obligatory decks, half a giraffe juts from the wall, long-lashed and serene looking, with a small bird perched on one long-dead ear. In the dining room, things get even stranger – there you’ll find an array of (possibly fake) half-animals in odd poses, painted bizarre colours and looking rather more likely to put you off your dinner than whet the appetite.
Decadence was clearly a watchword for whoever designed the current fit-out, and the effect by daylight can be cloying. There are mirrors galore and candles burning at all times, red velvet coating every available surface and gold-painted ceilings. Fortunately there is a deck area that catches a fair amount of sun filtering between nearby buildings and is better suited to daylight sessions.
Evenings, particularly in the winter, are when the wildly over the top Carlton Club décor begins to make sense (you know, to whatever extent a dead, pearl-sporting ostrich can). The deep-backed, rounded booths are perfect for frittering away the hours over cocktails and the music, though loud, is usually unobjectionable.
One point we feel obliged to mention is that the Carlton adds a surcharge to credit card payments, which may seem a minor gripe but about a decade since paying by plastic became the norm it takes some nerve to continue penalising patrons for it. There is a no-bank ATM in the foyer, requiring a quick bit of drunk maths to work out whether the ATM fee will come to more or less than 3% of the bill, but needless to say ditching the out-of-date surcharge would be a step in the right direction. Otherwise, a perfectly respectable inner city watering hole.
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