Adverts, innum?
dick rampant

EATING & DRINKING

Aussie bar prices outrageous, Muriel!

By thirsty hack Ignatius Rake

Posted March 08, 2012
outrage down under
Outrage Down Under: Small beer, big prices. © Ignatius Rake

If you go to Melbourne expecting to party hard with grog-swilling ockers then you're in for a bit of a shock. And so too is your wallet.


Founded in 1835 on the northern banks of the Yarra River, Melbourne, Australia's second city, is home to a wealth of Victorian architecture, world-beating pies, quality comedy and at least one pseudo-Sumerian war memorial, viz the Shrine of Remembrance, aka the Tomb of Gloom.

Furthermore, the locals, around 4m in number, are a generally relaxed and easy-going lot.

Indeed, not once was this particular hack called a whinging pom even though as a pom with a passion for drinking he found much to whinge about on the booze front.


CASINO ROYALE?
It was around midnight one Sunday when I arrived at my hotel on Spencer Street.

Once checked in, I naturally inquired of the receptionist as to whether there were any bars open nearby.

"You're in luck," he said. "Three minutes down the road is the Crown Casino. It stays open 24 hours."

"Casino? It doesn't have some kind of James Bond dress code, does it?"

"Nah, we're pretty informal round here."

Located just across the Yarra from the fantastically named Batman Park1, the Crown Casino was not a patch on the gambling halls of Macau in terms of sheer size or gaudiness.

However, it was still pretty tacky.

Having no interest in its army of one-armed bandits or gaming tables, I instead focussed my energies on procuring some loudmouth soup.

Fortunately, a helpful bruiser in a dickie bow was on hand to point me towards the nearest set of beer pumps.

Unfortunately, they were located within a sports bar bit bristling with TV screens spewing out a schizophrenic smorgasbord of ball-related bollocks.

Ignoring the flashing lights and buzzing noises as best I could, I scanned the taps and went for a pint of Carlton, along with VB one of the two mainstream local lagers.

"That's A$10.60, mate," the barman chirped.

"Sorry. How much?"

"A$10.60," he repeated.

I got the abacus out: about £6.60!

I checked his face for any telltale signs that he was pulling my plonker, such as a smile or raucous laughter.

Nothing.

He was deadly serious.

Beer here was more expensive than in Finland!

Admittedly, £6.60 was nothing like the £10 a pint I had regularly been charged in Norway, but as my wallet fell to the floor clutching its chest I failed to find much consolation.

For some reason (possibly the fact that my prior research had consisted of watching Bad Boy Bubby and an Ashes DVD), I had assumed Australia to be roughly on a par with the UK in terms of prices.

I certainly wasn't prepared for Sweden in the Southern Hemisphere.

So stunned was I that I necked my non-descript pint and quickly moved on to the Fat Yak, a 4.7% pale ale that while similarly priced nonetheless had a decent bite and a distinctive taste.

Perhaps, I mused, these ludicrous prices were just indicative of the place being a 24-hour casino.

Sadly, they weren't.

Everywhere I went in Melbourne I was confronted with Nordic prices and not just in the bars, where I was generally paying between A$8.00 and A$12.00 a pop.

Food was pricey too, with such basic staples as crisps and meat pies also costing the best part of a kidney, although it has to be said that Australian meat pies are in a class of their own.

It was just their price tags I didn't like.



killjoys
The big nose of the law: A crack Melbourne killjoy squad hunts down a punter having fun in a pub. (Check bottom for credits)

THE BEAST, HE LURKETH
Neither did I enjoy the proliferation of Orwellian bar posters invariably hanging where the pork scratchings should have been.

They were all official jobbies produced by the police or whatever the local SS are called, with one ominously threatening an on-the-spot fine of A$470.

"What's all that about?" I asked a barman.

"That's for us," he replied. "RSA."

"RSA? What's that then?"

"Responsible Sale of Alcohol."

"Never heard of it."

Perhaps it was the new album by Crowded House or Midnight Oil.

It wasn't.

"If we get caught serving someone who's drunk, we can get a A$470 fine," he said gloomily.

"No way! Someone drunk in a bar?"

"Yeah, it's shit, but that's the law."

Advancing the jackboot of the nanny state a giant goosestep further, another city-wide poster shrieked that anyone refusing to leave the premises when deemed drunk would be liable for a fine of A$13,000.

Eight thousand quid!

What a bunch of Nazis!

And this was the country that gave the world Dennis Lillee and Sir Les Patterson!


FOLLOW THE THYLACINE
Yep, drinking in Melbourne can be a seriously expensive business.

This I kept in mind when after a night in St Kilda, a groovy seaside suburb not unlike a mini Brighton, I cabbed it back to the Crown for a late one.

While I had consumed a few ales over the course of the day and night, I was in no way drunk as I stood at the counter quietly supping a Yak.

I wasn't swaying, staggering or even slurring my speech, largely because I wasn't speaking to anyone.

I was just minding my own business.

Nonetheless, a barmaid suddenly grabbed my beer and barked: "You've gotta go!"

"Sorry?"

"You've gotta go!"

"Why?"

"You're showing signs of intoxication."

Perhaps I wasn't gawping at the TVs enough.

Or maybe Melbournites go all quiet when they're pissed.

Whatever, there was no point arguing as she poured my overpriced pint down the sink.

Instead, I simply complied and left without protest.

Only to make a sure-footed beeline for the poker room downstairs.

Here the far less officious bar staff happily plied me with Cascade, a 5% Tasmanian lager with a thylacine on the logo, until I headed bedwards on spunking all my wonga (which didn't take very long for reasons previously stated).



labour in vain
Great for Goats: The Labour in Vain in Fitzroy. (Check bottom for credits)

UP THE WORKERS!
While Melbourne is a great place for pies, architecture and namby-pamby killjoy safety Nazis, it's not exactly Party Central.

That said, I did manage to find a few decent pubs worth their salt, including, among others, the excellent Exford Hotel, a Melbourne institution where I got chatting with UK comedian Nik Coppin2; Spleen Central, an intimate comedy club where Ronny Chieng tore it up big time; Pure Pop Records, a punk and indie record shop with a bar out the back; the Local, a real ale boozer where I drank a 20% beer; and the Labour in Vain, a well friendly little place where Roman the owner introduced me to the joys of Mountain Goat.

However, without a doubt the city's finest drinking establishment was the Workers Club on the corner of Brunswick and Gertrude in Fitzroy3.

Right up there with the K-Hole in Poz, Lehmitz in Hamburg and Club 71 in Hong Kong, the Workers was a fairly Spartan affair with an underground punky art feel and Fat Yak and Cooper's on tap.

As well as a main barroom and an outside smoking terrace (Melbourne, quelle surprise, is non-smoking), it also boasted a fairly large live music room, where I watched some band called Steaming Chair Leg or something warble on about love and Vegemite after blagging the door with my press card.

Intrigued by its solid Victorian façade, I had first ventured into the Workers during the daytime only to be greeted by the strains of What Deaner Was Talkin' About.

"Bloody hell! You're playing Ween!" I involuntarily exclaimed.

The tattooed barmaid, who was chalking up the day's dinner menu on the blackboards above the bar, turned to face me.

"People don't play Ween enough," she smiled.

I couldn't agree more.


Footnotes

1) Named after John Batman, who played a key role in the founding of what is now Melbourne and who also has a hill named in his honour, as opposed to Robin's mate, the Caped Crusader.

2) A top bloke who informed me that the Tankerville on Nicholson Street is also a 24-hour boozer. Sadly, when I re-read his words in my notebook I was already airborne over the sea somewhere. Check him out

3) Fitzroy the district should not be confused with Fitzroy Street in St Kilda, which is just a meat market from hell, although a couple of pubs were OK.


Picture credits

Top and thumbnail: Ignatius Rake; picture posed by a model.

Middle: Illustration by Ignatius Rake using original photographs by Cnwb; Graeme Bartlett; and Adam Carr.

Bottom: Original image by Cnwb; rejigged by Ignatius Rake.

For licensing information click the above links.




Share this story, yeah?

MORE FROM EATING & DRINKING

Hot dogs at noon

Major League Eating (MLE) has just confirmed that the start of the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest will return to its original time of 12.00.

US craft exports nudge $100m

us craft exports 2014

US craft beer exports up 35.7%; UK named one of the fastest-growing markets.

Kok Wang was right!

matt megatoad stonie wins 2015 hooters wing eating final

After Nathan's, Megatoad now beats Jaws at Hooters; Kok Wang exonerated for 2012 Dick Rampant shooting.

SHARE THE RAKE