Last drinks for Percy’s Bar

Cade Lucas

Mum and Dad were in town early this season. Like many visitors to Melbourne, they ended up in Lygon St. As Mum wandered off for some pre-lunch shopping, leaving Dad and I with some time to kill, the old man suddenly had a light bulb moment; ‘Let’s go to Percy’s Bar’.

Neither,Dad nor I support Carlton, but being Tasmanian natives, both of us support Tasmanian football and Peter Percy Jones is among the greatest players and personalities to have migrated across Bass Strait. And unlike the others, Percy has a bar which is a veritable shrine to himself, Carlton and the Tasmanian game. Anyone with an appreciation for football can find something interesting hanging on its walls.

There’s Percy and Jezza, moustaches bristling, holding up the ‘79 Premiership Cup. There’s a young Percy, sans moustache, lapping up the euphoria of the Blues remarkable comeback over Collingwood in 1970. There’s Percy schmoozing with Prime Ministers Menzies, Fraser and Whitlam. A trip to the toilet is elongated by pictures of Aussie Rules being played at the Oval in 1972, with the premiers Carlton taking on the Australian All-Stars. And of course, there’s the famous image of Perc shaping up to a skivvy wearing Tony Jewel at Waverly in 1980.

Among all the memorabilia is normally the man himself, perched on a stool at the end of the bar watching the TV. However it’s midday on a Sunday when Dad and I walk in and not only is Perc not there, but neither is anybody else except the young girl behind the bar who says we’re the first drinkers of the day. We both order pots of Carlton Draught, more through necessity than choice, as it’s the only full strength on tap.

Dad walks over to the wall below the TV where Perc keeps his Tasmanian memorabilia. There’s not much of it because there wasn’t much of Perc in Tasmanian football given he left for Carlton as a teenager. Still, Tasmanian football authorities have been keen to acknowledge those who’ve gone on to make a big impression on the mainland, even if they’d been spirited away before they were eligible to vote. Maybe it’s an effort to make up for not having a team of their own or to remind the AFL just what a significant contribution the island has made, but there’s a Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame and Tasmanian Team of the Century and Perc features in both. Alongside a certificate recognising his inclusion in the former, is a vivid painting of Percy in the latter, beside the likes of Baldock, Hudson and Hart, all clad in the famous green guernsey with the yellow map and a red T on the front: a jumper that, unfortunately, they rarely ever wore.

Dad however focuses on a small grainy black and white photo in between the two. It’s a North Hobart team photo from the mid to late 60’s, featuring a young Perc towering above his teammates, just prior to his move to the big smoke. Dad wonders whether a young Max Walker is also in the same photo, (he’s not, Tangles played for North Hobart a few years before Perc), before he points to a bloke a few spots behind the big ruckman. ‘That’s Garry Brakey, I played with him at Burnie High School’. Was he a good player, I ask? ‘Aww yeah’ Dad confers, before a long pause. ‘He committed suicide years ago’. Unsurprisingly, this saps my father’s enthusiasm for nostalgia and we head back to meet Mum.

I decide to come back to Percy’s a few days later for the Thursday night clash between Carlton and Richmond at the MCG. It’s the quasi season opener after the damp squib that was the split round one. I want to experience a big blockbuster in the surrounds a of a pub undeniably devoted to one of the teams. Sure enough Percy was there as I walked in, on the same old stool at the end of the bar. This time he’s surround by a bevy of regulars, all probably thinking along the same lines as myself; that the place to be for the first big Carlton game of the season – other than the MCG – is Percy’s Bar.

There was Ron Reed, the long-time Herald Sun sportswriter, and a crack football journalist at the old Melbourne Herald when Percy was still winning flags with the Blues. The eccentric solicitor Roland Hamilton was sipping from a glass of white and regaling all and sundry with whatever bizarre thought comes into his head. David Robb, or the ‘rabbi’ as Perc calls him, was also in attendance. Among many other ventures, Robb was the Chief Executive of North Melbourne during their rise to prominence in the 70’s and later the manager of Ron Barrassi, the man both he and Perc owe their fortunes too. Even Percy’s ex wife Jane and his ex mother in law were there, proving that if nothing else, Percy is a generous and forgiving host.

As eclectic a bunch as they were, the one noticeable factor they all shared in common – with the exception of the two English bartenders and myself – is that they were all old enough to remember when Percy Jones wasn’t an old pub owner sitting on a bar stool in the corner, but a strapping ruckman for the biggest and best club in the country. And there’s the rub; Percy’s Bar is simply an extension of Percy Jones the footballer. The footballer who played in four Carlton flags and with his big mo’ and larrikin nature, was one of the most recognisable players of his era. The footballer who once hit the post from the goaline. The coach who nearly punched on with his opposite number during a game. The footballer who played for, coached and was a long-time board member of the Carlton Football Club during a period of such sustained excellence that success was not desired or expected, but assumed. But also a man whose last game was 35 years ago.

Percy’s Bar has let itself go. There’s the aforementioned narrow beer selection in an era of craft brews and ciders. There’s a menu which while serviceable and tasty, fails to measure up to the fancy pub grub offered elsewhere. And a couple of TVs only playing Carlton games can’t compete with dedicated sports bars, let alone the HD plasma screen comfort at home. Even the neon sign sitting atop the building announcing Percy’s Bar to anyone coming around the Lygon St and Elgin St corner, indicates a bygone era when famous footballers would buy pubs and fill them with drinkers based on their deeds on the field rather than what was behind the bar.

Unsurprisingly, the place is full of talk that Percy’s Bar may soon be no longer. After more than 30 years, apparently the building owner is thinking of turfing Percy and his mates so he can build some apartments on the site. With this in mind, it’s almost painful seeing Percy watch the football as the ground on which his life has been based shifts beneath him. Not only is the bar that bears his name about to be torn down, but his beloved Blues, for whom success was once an afterthought and with whom he made his name, are now a shadow of their former arrogant self. The old enemy Richmond has embarrassed them in the first half. Hearing him groan, ‘awwww faaarrrrrk’ as a Carlton player puts one of their few shots at goal out on the full, sounds like the cry of a giant beast felled by a hunter’s bullet.

Eventually the Blues recover to almost steal an unlikely victory over the Tigers. However there’s no such recovery for Percy’s Bar. A few weeks later Perc is pictured in the paper calling time on his 30 year career as a footy publican. A few days later a collection of Carlton greats arrive and have a celebratory lunch to commemorate the end of a bar many of them drank in and whose younger selves adorn the walls.

Percy’s retiring down to Barwon Heads to write a memoir. No doubt it will include many colourful tales. But the end of Percy’s Bar signify’s something more than an ageing ex footballer heading into retirement.

It’s end of the footy personality pub. With Percy goes a tradition that spawned Brian ‘Whale’ Robert’s Cricketers Arms in South Melbourne and Royce Hart’s Precinct Hotel in Richmond. And Ron Barassi had the Mountain View only a stone’s throw from his old stomping ground at the MCG.

Of course footballers still own pubs. Luke Darcy now owns the Precinct and a bevy of big names including Riewolt and Richardson own The Waterside Hotel, sponsor of this website. But, as fine establishments as they are, few of the punters at the Waterside, let alone the bright young things who queue up to get into the Precinct, would be aware of the Illustrious achievements of the owners. Furthermore, can anyone imagine a future where Blues fans will congregate in the front bar at Juddy’s or Gold Coast locals and visitors from Geelong will pop in for a pint at Juniors. Company boards and radio studios are the post retirement gigs de jour for today’s football stars, if of course they don’t enter coaching as an increasing number do.

As for the footballer turned publican, last drinks have been called.

 

Comments

  1. I blame the rise of quinoa and persian fetta for this.

    I used to work at 161 Collins St and at quittin’ time on Fridays, the colleagues and I would head down to the Duke of Wellington, organise the MR1 quaddie for the next day’s racing, gaze lovingly upon Linton Fitzpatrick’s 1993 Werribee VFA premiership jumper behind the bar, down an ale (or two) with the Whale, smash a parma or a steak then head on down to the MCG for some Friday night footy action. Good times.

    I drove past the Duke one Saturday night recently. It was full of blokes with beards in skinny jeans drinking beers ‘crafted’ by someone (probably) called Hamish who failed viticulture at Marcus Oldham. So sad…

  2. I dropped in to Percy’s Bar after the 2011 final when we beat Essendon. I noticed the same as Kade – the place had gone to seed and, an hour after Carlton’s first finals win for a decade the pub most identified with CFC on the city side of Princes Park was nearly empty. Perce was behind the bar but not moving comfortably.

    Sad to see it go but on what I saw, the devils are doing Perce a favor.

    I watched the first half of last years GF in the Mountain View. Not bad but they’ve turned it into a rabbit warren, unrecognizable from the joint I watched quarters 1-3 of the 1989 epic before going into the MCG for the last, which doesn’t happen any more either.

  3. Percy’s Bar has been doing it hard for the last decade. not suprised its going under. Hope Percy does OK from here.

    Footy publicans are a rare breed now. I recall not too long ago when Phil Maylin was at the Marquis of Lorne, and Billy Stephen had the North Fitzroy Arms.

    Glen!

  4. Do I get a prize for knowing it was called Tony Sassi’s before Percy took it over. Many fond memories of a few lagers and Wild Turkeys at Percy’s in late 80’s. Shame it’s all over. Same fate as The Albion met.

  5. Thank you for a great article.
    of course the place had gone to seed, which was exactly the attraction.
    In this world of homogenized, sanitized political correctness, Percy’s stood out like a lighthouse,
    It was an old-fashioned pub, with the great added bonus of a very eccentric clientele
    I will miss it very much, ,

  6. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Wouldn’t be many of us who haven’t been to , Percys agree a huge part of its attraction was that it isn’t yet another done up pub thanks , Percy Jones
    Thanks Cade Lucas

  7. You could really pass some time at Percy’s.

    We stumbled on Percy’s about ten years ago when a few of our mates started going to Melbourne Uni. It was then visited almost weekly for a burger (always top notch as the price rose from $6.50 to $9.50 – still delivering change from a $10 note) and a beer that you could enjoy without any worry in the world.

    The burger chef remains, seemingly offered a new contract by the expansion club.

    The key event for a pub (in my opinion) is the Perth test match.

    Any pub worth it’s salt must understand the appeal of the evening session. We would finish work and head down to Percy’s with the crowd swelling to almost double figures, and enjoy three pints (that’s par for the final session).

  8. Nice work Cade. Enjoyed reading this. Pubs, like politicians, are a reflection of us. Depressing thought really.

  9. Oi! Rumours I failed viticulture are absolutely untrue. It was D- and as everyone at Marcus Oldham knows 51% is a pass.

  10. Warwick Nolan says

    If I had one question for Percy Jones . . .

    While the PJ Bar has achieved it’s full cycle, does he enjoy the facts that despite funding cuts, redevelopment and an amalgamation, the “Percy Jones Stand” at the historic North Adelaide oval still commands landmark status ?

  11. Truly a sad day and especially so for the 20-30 New England Wanderers, who have held their tipping comp Makeham Medal count and presentation night, Grand Final eve at Percy’s for the last 10 years. The tipping comp includes University of New England (UNE) ‘ol boys ’n girls who either started Aussie rules in the 60’s (Bob Cason), grew it the 70’s (Nanks, Rocket & Billy Malcolm), played and/or supported it along the way.

    Percy’s was an ideal venue for the event – rich in footy history with an ambience not dissimilar to many New England pubs where we did most of our footy training. Percy on a stool at the end of the bar, Lou trying to crash the show, jugs all round and footy franks to line our much larger bellies. No-one gave a stuff about a bunch of ageing FIFO footy legends from all over Australia, blowing their bags about how good they were and taking over the place for the tipping count, speeches and medal presentation.

    Footy and footy tipping seem to be a fair bit about coping with change these days. Sadly a subcommittee has been formed to select a like venue for the upcoming Grannie gathering – its proving a tough gig to find a place that does footy franks and party pies without the rocket, pear and walnut salad.

    All Clear & thanks Percy we had fun.

    i The Makeham medal honours the UNE larrikin professor of agricultural management Jack Makeham, who ran a book on our games at UNE in the 1970’s. See Almanac foreword 2012.

  12. Never had a drink at Percy’s Bar but had many over several years when I worked as a Pronouncer across the road in the Trades Hall building when Perc and his old team mate Adrian ‘Gags’ Gallagher had the pub on the corner of Lygon & Victoria Sts. If you think Percy’s Bar had a colourful clientele, you should have seen the Dover in the 70’s!! Bikies, Current day Footballers, Ex-Players, Gays, Straights, Broadcasters, Trade Unionists, Crims, Journos, you name it! They were all there and usually at the same time. It was an amazing place!

  13. Shane Johnson says

    Wonderful piece…just for the record the Tassy jumper colours are Rose, Primrose and Myrtle!

  14. Shane Johnson says

    Hey Cade…who is your Dad?

  15. Awesome piece. Really captures the vibe. And for something written by a non Carlton person, it really gets the carlton-ness of the place. We’ll done!!

  16. matt watson says

    I hope Percy writes his book.
    His first autobiography was an interesting read, better than the guff most autobiographies serve up.
    Never went to Percy’s bar.
    I admired him. What Carlton did to him at the end of 1980 was disgraceful.
    Sure, Parkin won two flags, but Percy was made a scapegoat for the bitter rift that caused Jezza to flee to St Kilda.

  17. So rumour has it that the north fitzroy arms may soon become percys bar. Keep an eye on it.

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