16 April 2009

Sound the Trumpets!

If you've been reading T.E.A.E.T.! for a while or have talked to us since we've been down here in Wolverinia*, you might recall being irritated by our persistent whining over the lack of reputable places for drink here in our fair harbour town. I grew up believing that any city offering as many pubs as Sydney is as close to heaven as our wispy mortal shells might be able to attain, but to stumble into 99.9% of Sydney's so-called "hotels" expecting anything like a positive experience is at best naive. I won't bore or disgust you with the details, but let's just say that it's been a more dreary and depressing year than it would've been if we'd spent some of it in the kind of delightful drinking holes we left behind in Atlanta.

The tremblings of something better were already registering when we arrived in Sydney with the news of new bar licensing laws, but it's seemed like an eternity since June without much to show for it. The first big blow to the monolith of the grubby pub scene came (as far as we're concerned) with the opening of Yulli's, a little bar/restaurant in the hippest bit of Surry Hills that offers a clandestine vegetarian menu and a really fine beer list. We definitely became familiar faces there within a few weeks of first coming across it. The only drag is that the place got too damn popular too quickly--clearly validating the beer list, in my twisted logic--and, since it's just a cafe and not a real bar, it has a hard time walking the line.

I happened to be up in Paddington working a little under-the-table gig I got recently (thanks, Richard) and on my way home passed what was a hotel in the old style, but warmly-lit with a new sign outside: THE LOCAL. They had the number "150" scrawled grandly on a chalkboard outside and something told me this was important. Two days later, a contact of mine who knows a thing or two about good beer tells me I need to go to this new place, the Local Taphouse. Sure enough, my intuition was correct: finally a proper craft-beer bar with 150 beers had opened in Sydney and I had missed the boat.

Nija and I finally made it up to the Local on Easter Sunday--which offered glorious weather--after a jaunt through the newly-reopened Paddington Reservoir. We had thought about going the previous night, but we decided it would probably be too busy. It was quiet when we walked in, really the perfect speed for a Sunday afternoon. The decor was just right, a kind of ramshackle collection of old odds and ends arranged charmingly in a converted hotel-pub, numerous pleasantly distinct seating areas, an elegant upstairs dining room. The whole thing is like a finely-built upright piano from 1912 that's had more than one profane drinking song banged out on its keys.

We ordered a "paddle"--literally a freshmen-ass-whomping fraternity-style paddle with five holes in it--of five craft beers. Three of them were Australian--by itself remarkable--and the other two were good selections from abroad.

Lookit them sitting there, all the colo(u)rs of the beer rainbow, just waiting to warm our bellies! After polishing off this palette of delight, another was in order, so we called for an encore of the Bridge Road 'Chevalier' Saison from NE Victoria. Best of all, the prices at the joint are surprisingly reasonable given the uniqueness of their wares and their high-profile spot in Sydney's most ludicrously expensive neighbo(u)rhood.

You might say that in the Local Taphouse Nija and I are trying to find some hint of the Brick Store, but who could blame us? There are definitely strong similarities to be found (compare the two bars' websites, for example) and clearly the two places are working from the same basis of cultural material. The Local is different enough to feel like a new experience, though, and it's an experience we'll be having lots more of this fall and winter.

So sound the trumpets, folks, a good beer culture is finally awakening in this town!

*The country formerly known as Australia has changed its name in a deal with 20th Century Fox to promote Hugh Jackman's new vehicle, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Iiiiiiiiiiiiit's true! Please change your maps and globes with whatever permanent marker is available.

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