Last Drinks at Percy’s with a Tiger in Tow


This is a story about Melbourne, its pubs, and saying goodbye to an old favourite. It’s also about football and its rivalries and one’s (namely my) inability to comprehend them. Of course this could only be written by a tourist.


There are drawbacks to being a native West Australian and barracking for a Victorian club. Even more so if this extends to State of Origin when it was still part of the fixture. Hence, I considered myself very fortunate to have married into a family of Richmond supporters. In essence, this amounts to us being able to discuss football as opposed to discussing Fremantle. How Richmond are they? My father-in-law’s dad, rest his soul, was born within walking distance of the Punt Road Oval, and his mother was born between their first back-to-back premierships. His daughter, my wife, was but seven and a half months old when the Tigers won their last flag and her brother four and a half months old when they appeared in their last decider. These are two points of interest they are not allowed to forget.


It helps that my father-in-law has a certain affinity for Geelong, courtesy of attending matches at Kardinia Park due to his dad’s work at the Ford plant in the mid-1950’s which ended when he switched to GMH at Fishermen’s Bend. In turn, I’ve long had a fondness for the Tigers, particularly the Hafey era. This may also be attributed to my weakness for the feline species: Cats, Tigers and Lions (but only those at Fitzroy). Plus, they have a great guernsey and club song. It’s an odd coincidence that the era that fascinates me the most is bookended by two grand final losses to Geelong.


My in-laws are also MCC members, albeit not full members. Who wouldn’t take advantage of this when visiting the Big Smoke? Sure, the seats are great but what fascinates me is the bar. There exists what looks to me to be the equivalent of an express lane for those after a pint of Carlton and a Four n’ Twenty. The service is ruthlessly efficient. This is also the sanctuary of the maundering clones in the dark blue blazers and the red cravats. Turns out they are not just a figment of the imagination of the Coodabeen Champions. They are indeed real deal and, true to form, notably absent after the Queen’s Birthday match.


I’ve been visiting Melbourne more or less annually since 2005. To say it’s my favourite holiday destination is misleading as I associate the term “holiday” with taking it easy. Each year, within hours of my arrival, my feet are blistered. Growing up, my only points of reference for Melbourne aside from the VFL were the films Malcolm and Romper Stomper. So for my first venture over there my expectations boiled down to two things: there would be trams and everything would be seen through a blue filter. The trams were there, the little house where Colin Friels’ character lived on Napoleon Street in Collingwood is long gone and in twelve years I’ve seen approximately two skinheads. Neither one appeared to be remotely menacing.


Be it Fremantle or Barcelona, there’s something about port cities. I’m extremely fond of them. It’s where you get off the boat after all. My ancestors on my mother’s side were maritime workers in Venice during the 19th century so maybe that has something to do with it. Albany is a port town and should have been WA’s capital city. They draw me in and when I first arrived in Melbourne I remember saying out loud, “I’m home”. Since then, every time I leave I get the blues something fierce and that lasts for a good fortnight at the very least. It’s like being homesick for somewhere that is not your home.


There’s plenty to love about Melbourne. Take a walk in any direction and you’re bound to find something you like. The architecture, the exhibitions, the soul scene (it was PBS-FM and Cherry Bar stalwart Vince Peach who inspired me to become a DJ), bespoke shoes at Rocco’s (sadly gone), and the people you meet just by chance. One morning I walked into an unusually crowded Marios for breakfast. A man I’d never met before waved me over to his table which had the only available seat. Before too long he revealed himself to be architect turned artist Peter Davidson. While he struggled at times to form words as a result of a stroke, the man’s mind was razor sharp. We spoke for a good 45 minutes and here he is inviting me to an exhibition of his artwork which was beginning the very next day. I remember being profusely apologetic for not being able to attend as I had to return to Perth. I thought they were unbelievably polite gestures on his part as I was but a complete stranger. All in all, not a bad way to wrap up a morning after missing a connecting tram and then nearly getting shat on by a pigeon.


Winter is the best time to go. Jacket and scarf weather. Peak time for me is between May and August. The cold there is markedly different to Perth. It gets right into your bones and tries to work its way out. It leads one to seek out any number of public establishments and to be in close proximity to other people. I may come off sounding like a borderline alcoholic when I say this, but what I love most about Melbourne are its pubs. Perth pubs, or bars I should say, which are increasingly sanitized and sterile, seem to be entirely about the transaction. I can only speak for the pubs that I frequent but the Melbourne pubs are far friendlier. Banter between staff and clientele seems more obligatory than accidental. Plus they must really look after their taps over there as the Carlton products taste noticeably different than back home.


On my first night in Melbourne in ’05, I was staying with a group of WA expats and our first drinks were at the Court House Hotel in North Melbourne, across the road from the town hall. Tim Rogers drank, smoked and shot pool with us. His partner, another WA expat, had a room at the house on Flemington Road where we were staying. Tim’s also from WA. Born in Kalgoorlie. Based on the stickers covering the back windscreen of his blue Mazda, you’d think just maybe he has a thing for North Melbourne. Up until then I’d only seen him on stage at a distance. Up close, he’s deceptively tall. A man of sharp planes and angles. Carved out of wood and quite possibly preserved in alcohol. These features further accentuated by the flared blue denims he had on at the time. A nose that would give fellow musicians Frank Zappa and Richard “The Beak” Manuel a run for their money. I kept my distance less I lose an eye to this sharp proboscis. He could quite feasibly smoke a cigarette in the rain with his hands tied behind his back and not get it wet. Being a dry evening this would not be put to the test.


After repeated visits, one develops habits and establishes haunts and I’ve settled on three Fitzroy watering holes all within relative proximity to one another. The Napier with its peppered roo steaks and Fitzroy Lions (and Gorillas) memorabilia. On Gore Street, there’s the Union Club Hotel where, on a good night, it’s like walking into somebody’s lounge room only there’s beer taps, extended family you want to see plus a curious shrine to Graham Kennedy. Try the Holstein chicken. My favourite place to nurse a pint and catch a bit of downtime after a day’s walking all over town is the Labour in Vain. Put simply, it’s a real settler-inner, especially when it’s quiet. No signature dish here but a bowl of Smith’s will do you just fine.


Other than to go to Readings on Lygon, I tend not to venture too far west of Carlton Gardens. On the opposite side of Lygon Street near Readings is the Hotel Astor, formerly Percy’s Bar. It was Ron Barassi who said not only did you need character to win premierships but also charact-ERS. Carlton had plenty and Peter “Percy” Jones was no exception. I tend to walk everywhere in Melbourne and if in Carlton and my blistered feet need a rest, Percy’s it was. Unfortunately I never got to meet him. I understand now he runs Bill Stephen’s old bar, the North Fitzroy Arms.


A couple of years ago I brought company to Percy’s and this was for me to be last drinks at Percy’s. More often than not, I’m permitted to travel to Melbourne alone. However on this occasion my wife and I travelled together and this was date night. I was DJing the following night at Yah-Yah’s following a friend of mine, another PBS-FM DJ, Mohair Slim. That would promise to be a late one with most of the following day being a write-off as well. We were making our way from wherever we had been for dinner to Cinema Nova on Lygon. We had quite a bit of time to kill and found ourselves in front of a corner bar.


Although it’s in no small part due to the way’s the town is mapped out, I still pride myself on having a pretty good sense of geography in Melbourne. I travel mostly on foot and that’s probably the best way to develop it. However, on this night, I’d wrong-footed myself. I usually approach Lygon Street from the Museum but on this occasion we came via Palmerston Street, so just what pub this was was anybody’s guess. The decision to venture in for a pint was nonetheless an easy one. Upon pushing open the doors we’re both greeted with turned heads, raised glasses and resounding cheers. Perhaps we had just inherited the place. Turns out, we’d just walked in on a quiz night. The grand prize, a warm slab of VB cans, was atop the bar. Despite repeated requests to join in with the presumption that we may actually get some of the questions right we declined and stuck to our drinks. This is what I love about Melbourne pubs. Friendly, welcoming. You don’t get this in Perth. By the way, this was Percy’s Bar. That had become apparent to me as soon as I set foot in the door, after the angle of approach caught me off guard. For me, it was reassuring. The location was familiar and the vibe said “settle in”. I collect my pint and pass a pot over to Pip, my wife. She’s mortified. I need only to look at the surrounding walls. I really should have known. I’ve brought a Tiger in to the next worse place to Princes Park. There’s Carlton memorabilia everywhere. I look at her then I look at the tattooed arms and grinning mug of Warren Jones in the framed 1982 premiership photo. There will be no settling in. The drinks must be finished post-haste and we must leave. For me, this turned out to be last drinks at Percy’s.


My in-laws loathe Carlton. I like to think that I’m a fan of the game before any one club and, no matter which team we support, we probably have more in common with each other than the differences manifested in existing club rivalries. Aside from an irrational distaste for the Fremantle Dockers, I’m not one to bear too many deep seated grudges in football. As a Geelong supporter, we don’t have much in the way of long standing rivalries. Hawthorn have come and gone what with the differing coaching methodologies of Bob Davis and John Kennedy. This flared up again in the 80s and 90s when we could rarely, if ever, beat them and then again after 2008. Now even the most recent of rivalries is starting to peter out. The Cats have had their share of grand final clashes with Collingwood (4-2 favouring Geelong) and there was the brief rivalry with North Melbourne in the 90s, although McGrath v Carey tended to be overshadowed by Carey v Jakovich. Maybe from this angle I don’t relate in the same way as supporters of other clubs do. Fitzroy and Collingwood were crosstown rivals (being in closer proximity to each other than to Carlton) with league pride at stake as by the late 20s they had won the most premierships. Richmond and Collingwood played each other five times for the flag between 1919 and 1929 and decades later nearly destroyed each other in a bitter tit-for-tat recruiting war. The genesis of the Carlton-Collingwood rivalry tends to find itself somewhere in the midst of the 1910 grand final. Fans, media and marketing departments alike thrive on these grudges yet some go so far back you begin to wonder how many can recall their origins and their relevance today. But these clubs have massive followings and no one could say the focus on rivalries, whether they are predicated on myth or have little weight today compared to a century ago, does nothing to create atmosphere and boost gate receipts.


But still, I struggle to relate and I find the Richmond-Carlton rivalry absurd. Both clubs, at their time of formation, were relatively working class so there’s not the clash of proletariat versus establishment that you would expect between say Collingwood and Melbourne. Plus I sincerely doubt there’s any two clubs in existence where the clash of catholic and protestant is still a sticking point so that doesn’t wash either. Unless I’ve made some glaring oversight, this curious enmity appears to stem from who should, or shouldn’t, have taken top honours in ’72 and ’73. Factor in ’82 as well if it needs to be drawn out further. My wife, the Tiger, never tires of telling me I have to be a Richmond supporter to understand. Maybe so but I’m yet to come across anyone in either camp who can offer an alternative explanation to the conclusion I’ve drawn which, to be fair, is merely an opinion. If there’s more to this than what looks to be little more than petty tit-for-tat then I’d gladly welcome further insight. (I should mention here, I am currently reading Dan Eddy’s new book Larrikins and Legends about the Carlton teams of ’79-’82. It is spectacular but sadly no further insight that tells me I’m wrong about the apparent flakiness of the Blues/Tigers rivalry.)


Suppose the fortunes were reversed. Carlton take honours in ’73 and the Tigers follow up their good work from the ’72 second semi and make St Francis a premiership coach in ’82. How does this affect things? Clubs, administrators, players and supporters can choose to believe that they’re destined to achieve glory at one moment or another. This may have happened with Geelong in 2008, or Collingwood in 1970 or even Essendon in 1948. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and that’s not because the opposition are little more than gutter scum. It’s merely circumstantial. You learn to live with it (after all, it’s just happened so you may as well), do your best to atone when (or if) the opportunity arises and you blame no one.


My father-in-law is still trying to make sense of what happened in the second half of the ’82 grand final, apart from Carlton overrunning Richmond. From memory the Blues also scored the first three goals of the game in about twenty seconds and those fast starts can often set the tone. Still, I think he is planning to undertake a scientific analysis of what he is sure is the spark of Richmond’s “lost years”. Not dissimilar to what happened to the Boston Red Sox at the end of 1919 when they sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees. The “Curse of GR”? Make of that what you will. The fact that this happened against Carlton seems to burn more although to me it seems little more than coincidental, like if instead it was Footscray that did the damage in ’82, or South Melbourne in ’72. What’s the difference?


As I mentioned earlier, I’m one to believe that most of us are fans of the game before any one club and, no matter which team we support, we probably have more in common with each other than the differences manifested in existing club rivalries. That’s not to say that all clubs are without their own quirks, far from it. They all want the same thing though and that is to be successful and to do their own supporters and members proud. Of course, I could be completely wrong about all of this (and I like eggs so aiming for the face poses no problems) but I’ll leave one example where the actions of people are not necessarily a reflection of the culture of the club and hence do not necessarily need to frame how others distinguish the opposition from their own.


In the 2002 edition of The Best Australian Essays, there’s a piece by Brent Crosswell titled “This Unsporting Life”. It’s a review of Peter Rose’s Rose Boys. Crosswell refers to a passage where Peter mentions how his father, Bobby, was moved by seeing the Collingwood supporters continually turning out at Victoria Park week in, week out in the worst kind of conditions. Crosswell then compares this with his own experience at Carlton two decades later where supporters would be queueing in the rain at Princes Park with the faint hope of purchasing finals tickets where meanwhile in the warmth and comfort of the president’s room finals tickets were being sold in bulk to various business associates. Those poor suckers outside had no chance. What happened there is not Carlton. What happened there is George Harris.


I never did get to meet Percy Jones. Maybe next time I come back.


About Adam Fox

Perth-based DJ, radio presenter (hosting and coordinating Soulsides on RTR-FM 92.1), writer, serial procrastinator, plate-licker, leftist, Geelong supporter with a very soft spot for Fitzroy and Richmond. I play late ‘50s to early ‘70s r&b/soul/mod 45s both on air and about town. I completed my BA Honours by submitting a thesis on Frank Zappa. I love the history of the VFL/AFL, especially the old suburban grounds and am obsessed with the 1989 Grand Final (especially the ABC-3LO call). My passions are footy, 45s, my cats (RIP Althea & Cliodhna), my wife and young son Matteo and the city of Melbourne which I visit as often as possible. I also like long walks on the beach and long necks of Melbourne Bitter.


  1. Neil Anderson says

    I was lucky enough to meet Percy last year at the launch of the Doggies Almanac. My first time at the pub and I struck gold after arriving from south-western Victoria. Drinking and talking footy with Perc waiting for the others to arrive. The Almanackers have many functions throughout the year at The North Fitzroy Arms.

  2. Yeah, I really should go next time I’m in town. It’s fairly close to the Brunswick Street oval which I always visit given my fascination with the old suburban grounds, so I’ve got precious little excuse not to go.

  3. Love it Adam. Old Percy was sitting up in the front bar of the North Fitzroy Arms on Friday arvo. Like pretty much every Friday arvo.

    Because I live in Melbourne I probably tend to overlook its qualities. This is a reminder not to. Thanks.

  4. Hey Dips,

    Cheers mate. I often think I’d be in the same position if I lived there rather than just a couple weeks every year (bar this one unfortunately) where I’ve got the time to take everything in and my time isn’t compromised by full time work, etc.

    Gotta make sure I come by NFA next year. Preferably when there’s fellow Almanacers there.

  5. This an excellent yarn, Adam. Most enjoyable.
    As Dips says, Percy is always at the NFA. You must come for an Almanac lunch.

    Maybe one day, you can venture across to my home town Williamstown (either by ferry or train).
    Still plenty of pubs in the old ‘town.

  6. Dennis Gedling says

    That’s really great stuff Adam. Now using AirBNB I get flung to all parts of that area of Melbourne on each visit which makes it more random. The Royal Oak on Nicholson Street was a great find last time and a mere block away from the Hipster infinity that is Brunswick Street.

  7. Dennis Gedling says

    Actually come to think of it it was the Commercial.

  8. Smokie: Cheers mate. Definitely on the to-do list. The one with Peter Bedford would’ve been great. Saw him on Open Mike not long ago and comes across as a real cracking sort. Will aim to check out Williamstown as well.

    Dennis: Many thanks, tiger. Been past the Royal Oak many a time but yet to venture in. Same with the Commercial. The Gasomter is a great venue. Recommend Collingwood Draught which they have on tap. I remember a couple of years back the Napier put out a calendar of local watering holes. A few still to check off.

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