Pub Review: The Exeter, Adelaide

 

The beer is fresh and cold, if unspectacular. Coopers features, but otherwise it has a decidedly pedestrian array of beer taps. And the food’s fine although I can’t recall an amazing meal I’ve had in its quirky beer garden.

 

Ultimately, none of these matter when deconstructing Adelaide’s mighty Exeter Hotel.

 

Some pubs offer accessibility as their key attraction. A vital yet drearily utilitarian function when you get home after a tough day on the hamster wheel and realise you forgot to take out the chops to defrost, so you barrel down to your local for some cheap schnitzels.

 

This is not the raison d’être of the X.

 

Set amidships at 246 Rundle Street in the city’s East End alongside the restaurants, cafes and retailers, a visit to this peerless boozer can set you on the road to Damascus, or at least Kent Town.

 

Beyond the usual, but still praiseworthy self-promotion of “No Pokies!” the X also positions itself by quietly announcing that pub crawls (Adelaide Uni Engineers: they’re lookin’ at you!), buck’s and hen’s nights and misshapen birthdayers younger than 21 can look elsewhere to celebrate.

 

This is a pub that knows its mind. It won’t listen to an hour of AM radio talkback, or watch Q&A and suddenly change its view. It’s a pub that wins the toss on a muggy day, ignores the hectoring of its opening bowlers, and decides to bat.

 

Just like it always does.

 

The front bar of the Exeter is an Adelaidean experience par excellence but the grungy microcosm within is removed from the monolithic culture of the day: there’s no which school did you attend? Crows or Port? Mix or Nova? Fruchocs or FUIC? Nonsense you might encounter at other more nakedly aspirational pubs.

 

Indeed, this incongruity is most welcome and isn’t incompatible with the genteel surrounds: it’s an earthy compulsion. The X, in roaring, bursting flight with its eclectic denizens, is more Soho or Camden Town or Hammersmith pub. As a point of difference, it’s wholly life-affirming.

 

If the Exeter didn’t exist, it would be necessary to build it.

 

*

 

Decades back our mate Chris was emigrating to Queensland to work for a software company. So, to mark this, we dined on curry and Kingfisher lager, and then galloped across to the Exeter.

 

Dawn’s closer than dusk. Only Nick and I remained, our Doc Martins moored to the floorboards. He’s from a farm in Shea-Oak Log. Years ago, we saw the Rolling Stones at Footy Park.

 

As always, we navigated travel and bands and film, and our discussion arrived at Harper Lee’s autobiographical masterpiece, To Kill A Mockingbird.

 

Over and through our Coopers, we pondered the novel’s last lines, and admired their uncomplicated elegance. They’re among the finest words printed. After the rush of the climax, we’re left with a painterly scene, a world profoundly restored by the love of Atticus:

 

He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.

 

This is why I love the Exeter.

 

*

 

Among my favourite writers is the Adelaide Hills-based wine scribe Philip White. Early in my career a highlight was opening Wednesday’s Advertiser in the English faculty office with my then boss and old mate Digby. We’d devour Whitey’s column and belly-laugh and nod. He’s a magnificent author, and naturally, his articles were not about grog, but stories. People, places, events both happy and poignant.

 

Some years later I finally met Whitey in the Exeter. We yarned at length about much including the account he wrote of the Darwin Stubby Drinking Competition held, of course, at the Humpty Doo pub.

 

“I loved the character at the centre of that story, Dave Gaston,” I stated.

 

Whitey replied. “Yeah, I reckon I compared him to Mick Jagger saying he’d ‘carefree elegance.’”

 

“You did. And it was great that while Dave won the prize you put a twist in the tail.”

 

“It was true,” the plonk critic nodded, “The quickest Darwin Stubby guzzler on the day was Norman. A Brahman bull.”

 

This is why I love the Exeter.

 

*

 

So, the X can be curmudgeonly. But safely within its ageless walls – check out the TOURIST DIES OF THIRST newspaper billboard behind the bar – you’ll be at this town’s ragged, charming heart and in a place of conversation and character and cheer.

 

It’s that most rare of locations: the destination pub.

 

 

 

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About Mickey Randall

Late afternoon beer, Exile on Main St playing. Sport like cricket, most types of football, golf, squash, horse racing. Travel, with Vancouver my favourite city, but there’s nowhere I’ve not happily been. Except Luton. Reading. Writing about family, sport, music, the stuff that amuses me. Conversation. Wit. Irony. McLaren Vale cabernet sauvignon, Barossa shiraz, Coopers Sparkling Ale. Jazz and especially Miles Davis. Lots and lots of music. I live in Adelaide with my wife Kerry-ann and our boys Alex and Max.

Comments

  1. Rabid Dog says:

    Thanks Mickey – I shoiuld arrange ot meet you for a pint when you’re next having a beer with Nick L.

  2. Luke Reynolds says:

    Brilliant Mickey. The best pubs always win the toss and bat.

  3. Rabid Dog- excellent concept. I expect an opportunity or two will arise over the summer.

    Very true Luke. I’d put the ANH and the NFA in this IM Chappell school of thinking too.

  4. Philip White’s wine writing is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. His website is suitably eclectic/iconoclastic.
    https://drinkster.blogspot.com. The design and graphics is as striking as the writing.
    Back in the day I worked with his food critic mate – the late “John McGrath”. Got caught up in a Hills pub crawl with them. Never again.
    The Exeter was too convenient in Uni days. A desalination pub? We all need a couple of those.
    Excellent Mickey.

  5. Dave Brown says:

    It’s a grand pub, Mickey. It’s the first off campus establishment that I felt comfortable once I looked old enough to legally drink (coinciding with my actual age of ascension). It’s not that it was welcoming, it was that it didn’t care – you’ve nailed its vibe. Other boozers with a similar feel (the Cranker, the Grace Emily) take some time to ease into, to build a sense of belonging. The Exeter just says there is no belong, just decent beer and few frills. My second favourite place for a Coopers Black and Tan.

  6. Superb Mickey you nailed it and yep have sold raffle tickets out the front

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    I thought that this was going to be about the one on Semaphore Road where we held our wedding reception Mickey.

  8. I really enjoyed this, Mickey. Well played!

    I have not darkened the doorway of the Exeter, in fact I am struggling to get my bearings on where it actually is. But I love those verandahs which stretch out over the footpath – it is, in a way, the pub taking ownership of all that lies before it.

    Question: does the Austral Hotel (Hindley St from memory) still exist??

  9. PB- If I ran a uni writing course I’d have Whitey on the syllabus. He’s worth following on twitter too- idiosyncratic and engaging.

    Dave Brown- what’s your favourite place for a Coopers Black and Tan?

    Rulebook- I reckon a Google map displaying your raffle ticket selling efforts would be a busy affair.

    Swish- that version of the Exeter is a worthy one too. There’s an excellent undercover playground which makes it a good option on a winter’s afternoon.

    Smokie- if you head east about 500 metres from the Malls’ Balls you’ll be there. The Austral is about one hundred metres back up the road, but on the other side. It’s very much open. Probably a more studenty demographic, but a good ‘un too. Both have cosy beer gardens.

    Thanks to all.

  10. Dave Brown says:

    The Parade, of course, Mickey. Although the Exeter provides a better receptacle.

  11. Dave- when confronted by the dispiriting beverages on offer at my local SANFL ground (Furphys anybody?) I often wonder how good it would be as a passionate ‘Legs man on Coopers Hill.

    And I trudge on.

  12. Trucker Slim says:

    I’m going to start a pub crawl at the Standard in Fitzroy and work my way to Adelaide and to the Exeter, just because of this essay. Or next time I’m in the city of churches I’ll take a pew there.

    Always a delight to read MR.

    Cheers

  13. Thanks Trucker. Others are better qualified to compare than me but I reckon the Exeter would work really well in Fitzroy as there’s a shared ethos at play.

    Happy to chaperone when you’re next in Adelaide too!

  14. Bernard Whimpress says:

    Mickey

    Great piece.

    I have an Ex story I tell often.

    I frequently pick up second-hand books at the Oxfam Bookshop – I still buy books at full price in proper bookshops by the way – and when I’ve made three classic purchases for something like ten bucks, head down to the Ex for a stout or two to peruse my purchases at leisure. Two or three years ago I did this, carefully going to my favourite spot in the little back dining room which nobody else frequents.

    There was some great music on – can’t remember who – but I’d no sooner opened the books and was sipping on my pint when the manager came in and asked me whether I’d like the music turned down. He said he’d often seen my come in and do some quiet reading.

    My reply was, No, but THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR ASKING!!!

    So many times in other bars and restaurants you get your ears blasted by musical crap which is more for the benefit of staff than patrons and is all part of what I’ve been meaning to write a book about – A CONSPIRACY OF NOISE.

    The Ex is a special place and the manager’s approach and offer to me that day demonstrated just how special it is.

    Just by the way I edit the Friends of the State Library journal, Bibliofile, and the next edition is on the subject of City Pubs with one of the four essays devoted to the Exeter and the pubs of the East End written by mate Chris Parsons who ran the pub just after the murder from 1970 to 1975. It, like all the essays, is a classic piece of writing.

    I can arrange to get you a copy but becoming a Friend is cheap and we need young members i.e. under the age of 70.

  15. Thanks Bernard for your generous comment.

    Your Ex music anecdote rings true. I recall being in the front bar, albeit not in recent times, and hearing entire albums such as PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, and thinking what a sonically special place it also. I reckon people usually ignore a pub`s soundtrack.

    One of my life aims is to be in a pub that rolls through all 90 minutes of Bitches Brew by Miles Davis, although I’m uncertain as to what I’d drink.

    I’m interested in Bibliofile too thanks. Very happy to hear more in an email, if that’s OK.

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