Pub Review Tour: Wednesday in Fitzroy

Rainbow Hotel, 27 St David St, Fitzroy

Another mild afternoon and I’m pleased to arrive before sunset to enjoy the interplay between light and shade and architecture and the human form. And also to enjoy the beer. It’s steak night but, despite the eager sales pitch, it’s too early for me.

There’s two rooms in the beer garden and, as I’m training myself or maybe the pubs of Fitzroy are training me to look up, I see upturned umbrellas and an old, stylish bicycle. Bicycles are everywhere in this suburb. These are a rich symbol of all that’s good here.

I suspect it divides the punters but I like a Chesterfield in a pub. There are no candles but instead bedside table lamps throughout the front bar. A former employee swings by with his new born girl and the bar staff are excited. It’s great to see.

Having necessarily ignored the Bridge Road stout given its 12% punch, I finish my Four Pines Pale Ale and depart, both garden and bar now bursting with cheery folk. I’d happily return.

Napier Hotel, 210 Napier St, Fitzroy

Approaching this pub it’s white and bright and lit up like a Madrid square. Stepping through the front door it’s darker than a Thai cave but boasts some beautiful stained glass windows.

Sitting in an ante room, the Doobie Brothers are playing and a family is eating in the dark. I’ve been in brighter ghost trains. Throughout the pub are large, satirical Phantom artworks that explore gender politics.

I sip my Moo Brew Pale Ale and John Fogerty finishes “Green River” and we move to an early Miles Davis number. Next to me (I think) I overhear another ubiquitous footy conversation, this time about the Sydney Swans and the possibility of yet another late run at the finals.

Back in the front bar, two women are talking of travel and trees – “It was beautiful and under it was just like a room.”

The Standard Hotel, 293 Fitzroy St, Fitzroy

The first thing I see is mightily impressive. It’s the take-away drinks fridge in the front bar. Standing beside two women who are eating steak, I order a Beechworth Pale Ale. One has a guitar case next to her.

On my way to the huge beer garden – again with many separate spaces – I note that there’s much Fitzroy footy club memorabilia. It speaks to me of pride in the past and a certain defiance, but I also suspect that this is a suburb still in mourning for the loss of its team. I wonder how many locals now support Brisbane? How many in this close, vibrant community connect with a team thousands of miles away in the muggy, ambivalent north?

Out in the beer garden it’s dark. I’m almost the only punter not wearing black. In a function room there’s a clot of attractive, smiling, young suits who’ll soon inherit our catastrophe.

Boonie, Elvis and Keef photos are above the bar, all brilliant in their excess and singularity. What to make of the visual overload? Is it pollution? Is it competing for the narrative or there as comic relief? Or just stuff to look at while waiting for your drink or friend?

Labour in Vain, 197A Brunswick St, Fitzroy

I enter to Dire Straits working their laconic way through “Sultans of Swing” and take an inner gasp as I consider that this song is now in its fifth decade.

Some young lads are playing pool and, of course, like all contests, there’s thrills and disappointments, equally. Wandering about, I see a bloke ascending the stairs. One of life’s eternal mysteries is what lies at the top of the stairs. I’m always intrigued. Before he disappears I yell out to him, “What’s up there?” He replies, “The smoking area.” I stay on the ground floor.

With Newtowner Ale as brewed by Young Henry in mitt, I find a spot by the window. The world moves by. These are big windows letting folks look in. Most other Fitzroy pubs I’ve seen are secretive, daring you to wander in. It’s breezy out.

Like others in the suburb, Labour in Vain displays a concerted dedication to the past. There’s nothing contemporary on the walls or in the space. Why? Maybe pubs are places of escape, a refuge from our saturated lives. And the past is always a distraction, good or bad.

Billy Corgan’s whiney voice suddenly fills the bar with a Smashing Pumpkins’ song that, like most of them, I find overrated. In the 1990’s they did nothing for me. And now they do double that.

Union Club Hotel, 164 Gore St, Fitzroy

To employ a cricketing metaphor, DNB.

For two pubs earlier I got a message from fellow Almanacker David Wilson offering to meet for a beer. I’ve heard the term ‘disruption’ used recently in various learning contexts, and guess that my plan now enjoyed a happy disruption for I returned to the Napier and found David in the front bar and we chatted about cricket and footy and family and work and writing. It was great and I thank him for this.

I’d had myself an evening.


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About Mickey Randall

Now whip it into shape/ Shape it up, get straight/ Go forward, move ahead/ Try to detect it, it's not too late/ To whip it, whip it good


  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    That’s some collection Mickey

  2. Rick Kane says

    And to think you’ve only skimmed the surface of the plethora of Fitzroy’s watering holes. But onya for the effort. Especially last night when the rain howled and the wind cut like a 1000 knives.

    Agree with your SP observation.

    And re Green River, it has one of Fogerty’s best lines (and he has stacks). Here it is:

    Old Cody, Junior took me over,
    Said, you’re gonna find the world is smouldrin’
    An’ if you get lost come on home to Green River
    Well, come home

  3. Labour in Vain? “u” is redundant.
    Life in the Peoples Republic of Fitzroy and Northcote seems to suit you. Very 20th century.

  4. Mickey, the Standard has a wonderful beer garden. Wonderful to sit there in summer, unsure how it is in July.

    The Standard was the ‘place’ in the early 80’s. I recall going there from 1983, as it was one of the first pubs to have an 11pm licence. Ground breaking.


  5. E.regnans says

    Mighty effort Mickey.
    Plenty would not have packed the white shorts.
    But you not only wore them down the narrow bluestone laneways, you got a few touches.
    A pleasure to share the Napier front bar as the Indian top order walked the plank behind & over our right shoulder(s).

  6. Roger Lowrey says

    Sounds like a slightly geographically expanded version of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley mate
    Best wishes to all at the royal and ancient Kapunda Tennis Club.
    See you at Oakbank next Easter.

  7. Paul Spinks says

    Some good pubs there, Mickey, that I recall from when I lived in Collingwood. I’d love to be able to say you missed the Punters Club.

  8. If your ever visiting Henley Beach check out the Ramsgate, home of the infamous big dust up of a few years back between the Power and the Crows.

  9. Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. Fitzroy’s a great suburb in a great city and I imagine it will take me many trips over many years to explore all of her public houses. My top three in no particular order: The Rainbow, the Rose, The Napier.

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