West Coast Small Bar Tour
I’ve been meaning to share a few pics, and thoughts, of a trip I took back to my home town of Perth over Easter.
Like Sydney, the small bar scene has gone ballistic in the West mainly thanks to the introduction of a dedicated small bar liquor licence back in 2007.
Since then, over 70 small bars have sprouted across the city, so I decided to grab a good mate of mine ‘Sock Boy’ and check out a few of them on a small bar crawl through Perth.
Sock Boy and I, kicked off our leisurely stroll around midday at Clarences on the Beaufort St, Mt Lawley/Highgate strip. From memory Clarences was one of the first small bars to take up residence on the strip back in mid 2010.
The venue is a split-level affair, with booths up the top, and a bar, and courtyard down the bottom. The outdoor courtyard, is great little timber bench lined gem, ideal for those balmy Perth Summer nights…or days for that matter!
Clarences has a decent selection of wine, and beer, and from what i’ve heard the food is pretty good.
One the things they excel at is Scotch and Gin – with the friendly (Meekathara country girl) bar tender being kind enough to let us sample the Sabre and Cutlass varieties of West Winds Gin. This is a gin i’d been meaning to taste for ages, mainly due to it being fairly rare to find on the East Coast, and also because it originates from the Margaret River region of WA. Added to this, West Winds took out the 2011 San Francisco World Spirit Award for best gin. So needless to say when the opportunity arose – we jumped at the chance – and weren’t disappointed!
Next cab off the rank is my current favourite Perth small bar – Five Bar. Luckily for us Five is literally a couple of doors down from Clarences, and is a universe apart from its previous incarnation as a dark and dodgey pool hall.
Since opening in December 2010, Five has rapidly risen to stardom, taking out the 2011 Australian Bartender magazine WA Small Bar of The Year Award in its first year of operation.
One of the main reasons I love this place is because THESE GUYS GET CRAFT BEER! Five has over 100 bottled, and 8 x tap craft beers to choose from. They regularly rotate their taps, and have monthly brewmaster visits as well as small/new batch launches. If you’re partial to a little vino, you’re not going to be left behind either, Five has a tasty selection to choose from – but it’s worth keeping in mind that these guys definitely favour their craft beer over their wine.
Another reason for liking Five is the food. The food here is outstanding, with the menu being specifically designed with beer pairing in mind. Light snacks such as – Slow Roasted Field Mushrooms Served on Fresh Crusty Toast, Topped with Crumbled Feta, and Drizzled Sherry Vinegar (aka the vegetarian open rare beef sandwich) – are a huge crowd pleaser. More substantial fare such as – Crispy Skinned Barramundi w/ Goats Cheese-Herb Mash, Cherry Tomatoes & Creme Fraiche – are ideally paired with a tasty Feral White (Witbier) or a Mad Brewer’s Hoppy Hefe.
It’s also really refreshing to note that the Five’s staff really KNOW THEIR STUFF! Whether it be beer, wine or food, Bar Manager Michael O’Brien (aka Macca) has done a great job with his hiring. Every team member we spoke to was totally on the ball!
Only opening in March this year, El Publico is the new kid on the Mt Lawley small bar strip, and the latest venture for Greenhouse co-owner Paul Aron, and Cantina 663‘s Michael Forde and Alex Cuccovia. So you can guarantee you’re in for a treat when you eat here. The menu consists of mainly traditional Mexican street style snack food. Unfortunately we didn’t partake any food on this visit, but the serving of soft salmon taco’s we saw being wolfed down looked delish.
If you like your Tequila, you’re definitely in for a treat at El Publico. They have over 60 to choose from including a Partida Elegante @ $100 a shot!! Historically, Australian’s have tended to only drink Tequila in shots, and usually at the end of a big night. The reality being, that it’s a fairly complex spirit that (like wine) comes in a variety of colours, weights and textures – and should ideally be sipped and savoured.
At the back, top level of the bar is some outstanding street art consisting of scary, trippy looking skeletons, and malicia stencil art. Co-owner Paul Aron mentioned to me that the concept of the art had be borne during an earlier trip to Mexico that the owners had made. One night when the boys were all juiced up on Mezcal these ‘visions’ started coming to them. They jotted them down as best as though could at the time, and the end result is what now adorns the walls – which I have to say is pretty damn impressive!
While Sock Boy and I were sitting at the bar, we noticed the barman grinding something through a muslin cloth lined Chinoise, extracting a rust coloured, milky liquid. When we asked what it was, he said it was fresh ginger being juiced as a base for their home made Ginger Beer – we were sold at home made! So a round was hastily ordered! This stuff was the ducks nuts! Fresh, spicy, zesty and zingy – hands down the best Ginger Beer i’ve had in my life! When combined with a shot of Ilegal Reposado Mezcal it totally rocked!
Bar 399 is an early rising small bar, opening its doors at 10am for coffee, small breakfast snacks and Bloody Mary’s (if you’re so inclined). I actually stopped in earlier that day to recafeinate on my walk up to start my small bar crawl in Mt Lawley – so this was the second time I popped in when we were on our way back into town.
During my morning visit I had the chance to chat with co-owner Gary Beadle, who also co-owns Five Bar. Gary is a switched on operator from London who totally gets the hospitality industry. Having cut his teeth pulling pints back back in Mother England, he now also runs a successful hospitality business that specialises in concepts, design, vision, business development, mentoring, training & business management.
Bar 399 opened its doors in June 2009, after refitting the venue from its previous life as an amusement arcade (which I spent way too much time in during my uni years) having lived just around the corner. The interior consists of a long open room, with a bar spanning the length one side (with a DJ box at the end), and cozy booths down the other side. Warm timber, dark chocolate overtones and vivid splashes of colour are the order of the day here. Like it’s sister Five Bar, 399 also has also made intelligent use of large glass skylights to help open the space, and provide natural light to brighten/lighten the interior of the room.
Bar 399 specialises in cocktails, but oddly enough doesn’t have a cocktail menu to speak of. There is a blackboard at the end of the bar with the wine and beer list on it, but the (learned) bar staff prefer to make bespoke cocktail concoctions depending on what you feel like at any given time (as well as all the time tested favourites).
After a couple of cleansing ales, Sock Boy and I continued on our way, on to the home stretch. We had planned to drop in at another couple of small bars Frisk!, and Bivouac. Alas, being Easter a lot of places were shut for the long w/e – including these guys.
Last stop, on what had been a long (and boozey) day was Ezra Pound. This bar is one of the more hidden small bars in Perth. It’s located down William Lane (a small alleyway that runs off William Street) Northbridge.
Ezra Pound was a 17th century poet most noted for defining, and promoting, a modernist aesthetic in poetry. He was also a big player in the prohibition era in America where venues where forced to sneakily provide libations without alerting authorities. This history is reflected in the unpretentious, super lo-fi fit out of the bar. Timber benches line the alleyway outside, and exposed brick walls, raw floorboards, and smatterings of olde skool furniture make up the inside – the toilets out the back – in an open, shared fire exit – look like they are straight out of the 17th century (and I don’t mean that in a ‘charming/quaint’ way!).
They have a small selection of beer, including ‘king browns’ of Coopers Green – which they serve to you in a brown paper bag. So you feel very much the wino as you sit out in the alley, with the smell of rubbish wafting over the back fence, drinking your brown bag king brown. Cocktails are also suitably dressed down, served in old glass jam jars – no expense spared here.
Despite its unassuming fit-out, and modest drink list, Ezra Pound is probably the only true small ‘dive’ bar in Perth. Which, may not be to everyone’s liking, but in my opinion makes it a refreshing change from a lot of the other small bars around town.
All up, this was a really fun afternoon. The leisurely 2.5 km walk that took us from Mt Lawley to Highgate, then on to Northbridge took us roughly 30 mins (not including small bar pit stops!). For those of you interested, i’ve included the Google Map route is below: