Percy’s Bar at the Astor Hotel

Thursday 31 May, 2012

It was Thelma’s turn tonight and she opted for Percy’s Bar.  There was a moments confusion when were planning our journey as she was determined that Percy’s was on the corner of Lygon and Alexandra Pde, whereas I ‘knew’ it was Lygon and Elgin.  We knew if we walked down Lygon st one of us would be proved right; and I was!

Walking down Lygon Street means running the gauntlet of the spruikers from the phalanx of Italian restaurants that Lygon street, especially at the city end.  This is a tedious process, and tests the patience, how many times does Signora have to say “no thanks” when asked if we want to see the menu for dinner and “no, we don’t care if it is warm inside” – we are feeling decidedly frosty out here.

I understand that everyone needs to make a living but I would like to offer the following advice to the Lygon St Spruikers Guild.  When you are purposefully  walking and talking down the street, not strolling, looking  wistfully into windows like something out of Lady and the Tramp, there are no signals that we are in need of garlic bread and carbonara of any sort, if you need to say something, try,” lovely evening” and maybe next time when I am in the need of carbonara, I will come to your establishment.

Anyhow having fought our way through “Little Italy”, we were at Percy’s Bar at the Astor Hotel, on the corner of Elgin Street.  Percy’s is a well know establishment, owned by Percy Jones, a legendary Carlton football player, he must  be legendary as I know about him and my football knowledge is limited to the odd fact I have picked up from my Geelong mad aunty, “Go Catters!”.

Now before you say “Bar”?!”, Percy’s is a pub in the classic  tradition, there is a front bar, populated by classic style patrons and at the back is the bistro, I assume, in times gone by it was “the lounge”.

We went in through the bistro, did discuss whether we could eat there but then determined that in the spirit of The Quest ‘bistro’ did not fit in to The Rules.  We managed to get the only table in the bar, next to the Hot Cupa Nutz machine  and sat under the shrine to the Carlton Football club, dominated by a photo of Perce and Alex Jesaulenko holding a cup aloft.  Don’t expect more details as that is stretching the limits of my footy knowledge, and Thelma knows decidedly less that I do on matters of the local religion.

Looking round I realised two things, we were the only women in the bar area, and when ‘young people’ came in to the pub, they avoided the main bar and its regulars and congregated at the end near the bistro,that was their place.

Sitting, holding court on the other side of the bar was Perc himself.  The general bar chatter was football and Carlton in particular and the regulars looked to Percy for acknowledgment and approval of their ideas.  As one said:”He’s the boss, the Buddha”.

The menu in the bar was limited and classic:, chips, sausage and mash, steak and naturally a parma and chips .  Thelma opted for steak, feeling in need of the iron, I was not inspired until I saw that you could have corned beef, from the bistro menu.  Now in my thinking corned beef is a pub bar meal, I would never have ordered the roast duck, that would be far to fancy but after consultation it was agreed that corned beef fitted into our remit and budget. And can I say it was delicious!  The meals were excellent.   Thelma had  rump steak with chips and paid a bit extra for salad, but with this she also got a free pot. Now salad in many pubs can be a few tired leaves and a bit of tomato, but not here it was fresh and plentiful, the steak was cooked to her liking “on the medium side of rare” and the chips were plentiful but not over whelming.

My corned beef was better than my Nanna used to make who tended to boil things into submission , with mash, fresh  broccoli peas and beans that weren’t cooked within an inch of their lives.  There was a small dish of sauerkraut and mustard sauce to pull the whole thing together.  Again, fresh and delicious.

The beer, well given that the signage throughout the bar was Carlton, so it was not a surprise that the only beer on tap was Carlton Draught.  Other beers could be had in a bottle, and I guess at a price, but that would break the rules.

All up, our dinner cost $45, and I would have to say good value as well as delicious.

On our way out, use the facilities, it’s a long walk home you know, Lygon St to Merri Station.  Have to say that I was bemused but the advertisement in the ladies, it was  a poster for steak.  Perhaps it could be seen as a health message to encourage women to increase their  iron uptake.

Just a comment on the “Walk” part of our evening, I was injured in the line of duty. Note to self: trim toe nails before undertaking significant walk in boots or the results can be ugly.

Gasometer Hotel

Thursday 24 May 2012

As usual, Thelma came to me but before we set out, I checked the BOM Melbourne radar site, the radio had been warning all day of storms so didn’t want to be caught out.  Actually BOM is  a favourite site of mine, because as a dog walker, it is very useful to know whether the dark clouds are serious or not.

It was my turn to pick so decided our destination would need to be on a tram track, to  give us an option in case of inclement weather.  Chose the Gasometer, in Collingwood. The last time we were there it was a mock Irish pub and Thursday night was “International Parma Night”. You know Hawaiian Parma, with pineapple, Italian with Napoli sauce and Mexican parma with salsa and guacamole .

As we were walking along Smith Street, it was a good chance for me to show Thelma Sharon’s big budgie. No, it not a euphemism; let me explain.   Sharon West, a friend, teaches visual arts at the Indigenous Arts Unit of the School of Art, RMIT University. Through her art she examines the relationship between settler and Indigenous cultures within the context of Australian colonial art history.

Sharon won the award for Excellence in Conceptual Photography at the Kodak Salon at the Centre for Contemporary Photography and part of her prize was to have her work displayed on bill boards in Collingwood.  Hence her big budgie and big magpie (quite appropriate for the streets of Collingwood) are on the wall of the Seven Eleven in Smith Street.  They are quite an impressive sight, as they are huge, imagine a pony size budgie. Interestingly, Sharon gets to keep the posters when they are taken down. Now given that they are the size of a regular billboard, we are wondering she will do with them. Feature wall in her flat, doona cover, thoughts?

Arriving at the Gasometer we were welcomed by the warmth of two open fireplaces. We discovered the focus of the cuisine has narrowed somewhat so from International Parmas, it now has an Eastern European focus;  Polish chicken, wiener schnitzel, meatballs with vodka and dill sauce and smoked salmon goulash. There was also two pages of vegan meals and they boast that there is a vegan only deep fryer and they don’t use any pre-made products.

What we ate: Thelma had wiener schnitzel, that was beef, not veal and made the profound comment that it tasted “beefy not veally’.  Most profound!

Me? I had the polish chicken and dumplings, I had a vision of meaty casserole and fluffy dumplings.  The reality was more like a poor version of Mum’s chicken casserole but without the meaty bits of chicken or the veg, (three bits of carrot and two of potato do not veggies make). What I got was dumpling like gnocchi, when what I had imagined was fluffy and substantial – ‘ my bad’ because had I thought about it I had had east European dumpling at Koliba Czech and Slovak Restaurant and was equally disappointed.

What we drank: Prickly Moses Red Ale and Collaborator Brown Ale ($12.50) – according to the barman, the was only 2 kegs of Collaborator made, which is a pity really as it was a smooth and full bodied, a truly noicedrop.

Overall cost: meals $46, beer $12.50 = 58.20;  just under budget

Before I go just a piece of advice to the tall barman, when you ignore the woman of a certain age waiting for service at the bar to engage with the tattooed twenty something that just walked in to check out the menu and then just walks out again; serves you right.  Just saying!

Lord Newry

Thursday, 17 May 2012

This was a nice night for a walk, even the possums in the Exhibition Gardens thought so.  That was  until a cyclist came towards one of them as it waddled across the path; there was a moment’s hesitation and then it swung into the overhanging foliage of an oak tree.  As it did so it so cunningly avoiding the possum barrier on the trunk of the tree and disappeared into the tree, for, one presumes, a feast of forbidden foliage.  Note to City of Yarra Parks and Gardens: possums is smart.

As the evening was almost balmy, we decided to pick the Lord Newry, a pub that was a ‘good walk’ from the city, keeping the pubs closer in for when the weather is inclement.  Our logic here is that if the weather is miserable we walk to the closest pub on our list then we can catch the tram the rest of the way to Merri.  Honour is then satisfied as we have walked and we have’ pubbed’.

The last time Thelma and I were at the Lord Newry was the week before the ‘No smoking in pubs’ legislation came into place.  Things have changed at the Newry, no smoking inside for a start.  There has also been a refurbishment of the pub in the last couple of years, but the main feature of the Newry is its sense of genuineness, in contrast to the display home feel of The Tramways that we visited last week.

I quickly learnt the pub had been refurbished when I followed the sign for  the toilets that directed me “through the dining room”.  I wandered, I searched but no dining room, because yes, the pub had been refurbished and what had been the dining room was the pool room and yes, there were still toilets.

At the Newry you get the sense that is is a locals’ local; from the table of drinkers complete with large black dog out the front that you know have been here before and will be there in the future, to the posters advertising the pool competition, this is a place that holds a place in the community, or at least that’s what it feels like.

The menu reflected the sense of genuineness of the Newry, yes it has been refurbished but it hasn’t lost its soul What we ate: Thelma went for the Cumberland sausage ( the whiteish, spiral one) with mash, peas onion and rosemary gravy ($18). Thelma is a great fan of peas and mash. Me, I had an excellent parma, proper chicken breast with a Napoli sauce that had a hint of warmth (chili) to it ($19). And we drank: Coopers Pale Ale and Fat Yak (nothing too fancy here) – $9.70.  So all up dinner cost $46.70

Perusing the menu, we came upon Breakfast – 12 till 5pm Friday, Saturday and Sundays; with such breakfast stalwarts as Chicken schnitzel, fried eggs, saukraut, chips and salad.  So many things are wrong with this and then you realise that you are not the demographic they are trying to appeal to. Perhaps the next time Thelma and I have a big night on the sherry we might tryt the Lord Newry for Sunday breakfast.

Sitting behind us was a table of thirtysomething blokes discussing life, the universe and everything but I have to say my ears pricked up when one made the pronouncement the “a pram is just four wheels with a baby on top”.  It was amusing to listen to the ‘blokes support for this view’, I wonder what the mothers of their children think? Do they not know there is a whole pram industry that would deny this, a pram is so much more; all wheel drive vehicle, status symbol, shopping cart and some where to carry your coffee. The baby can often seem like an optional extra.

Tramways Hotel

Thursday, 10 May 2012

When you think about it, there are a lot of pubs in inner city Melbourne, and these are the ones that are still operating, not the ones that have been turned in to boutique, or’ boutiquish’ apartments.  The reason that this is has popped into my mind is that Thelma and I ‘lost The Tramways Hotel.  We knew its general vicinity in North Fitzroy but our bearings were confused by the angularness of the roads, no grid pattern here, and the fact that the Tramways, Lord Newry and Fitzroy Star are all within spit of each other.

There was slight tenseness in the air when we realised that we hadn’t walked past it but were parallel and would have to go a block to the left when our actual forward journey would be forward and right.  There was a debate, was this going backward? (See The Rules) Me, slighty tired and grumpy “No” as we were parallel, Thelma less sure, being more a stickler for The Rules, was testing my case (and patience). We  got to the “I don’t care phase I’m going any way” stage and the moment was over.

The Tramways has been renovated since we were here last, and in our opinion, not for the better.  It feels like it could get a run on “The Block”.  It is now in a modern, inner city style, with a slightly sterile over tone.  It feels like a café or restaurant not a pub,  consistent with this style were the candles and Sicilian Sea Salt on the tables.  And I have to  mention the deconstructed brass door handles  – hard to describe, you just have to see them for your self.

The patron seemed to reflect this style, they seemed to be young professionals.

The menu at the Tramways has adopted a burger theme.  Beside the classic beef, there is lamb and haloumi, quinoa and hummus and greek beef (which is just wrong). There was a steak sandwich  and the three non burger mains were steak, chicken and gyoza.

Thelma and I both went a steak sandwich, which came on a seedy bun, with a spoonful of coleslaw and the best chips.  Skin on, naturally as that fits the style. $18 each, per sandwich, not per chip.

What we drank: Thunder Road Brunswick Bitter($4.50) and Golden Paw American style pale ale ($4)

All up our dinner cost $45.50, well under budget.

 

Hiatus

Thursday, 3 May 2012

It is a sad fact that sometimes life comes between Thelma, me and Thursday night. And this was such a time.

Thelma’s work some times takes her on tours of the country and this Thursday she was gracing the fine city of Shepparton.   She partook of the fine dining repast courtesy of room service from the motel’s bistro, this included a $10 bottle of wine.  She would like it noted that she didn’t finish the bottle.

If missing Thursday night is disconcerting for us, it is down right traumatic for ‘Brad Pitt’, my partner, who plans his Thursday’s  based on the premise that he will be ‘home alone’.  There is a standing order for chicken and broccoli risotto from the local Italian and what ever high quality TV program he chooses, “Pascoe and Dalziel”, “Stargate” and “Red Dwarf” reflect his choices.  Having me home on a Thursday night, spoils these simple pleasures.

So what did I do?  Spoil his fun?  Nah! actually I used the opportunity to visit D&D, and join them for home delivered Indian, ordered on the net.  My other reason for visiting D&D was to have some earings made for a cousins 40th birthday.  The picture shows D’s handy work  and reflect a lovely set of synergies; my Mother’s crystal beads, made for a my cousin by a friend of 30 years standing.

Well, that is what happens on a Thursday night without Thelma; no walk, a bit of talk and plenty of fork.

Follow-up

In our previous post, we mentioned that The Rose, the Fitzroy institution was to be auctioned on 27 April 2012.  Well, it sold  for $2.65 million and much to the relief of locals and Thelma and me the new owner said The Rose ”will stay as a pub and be run as a going concern”. For more information see: Sale of The Rose

The Standard Hotel

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Lovely evening for a walk as you can see from Thelma’s picture opposite.  Actually we did spend time trying to take photos of the skipping circle in the gardens but the lighting was too poor,  so to those people who may have wondered about the two women loitering taking photos of each other, we were actually trying to capture the very impressive speed skipping you were doing.  Perhaps once daylight saving returns?

Tonight’s choice was The Standard  a pub hidden in the back streets of Fitzroy; so hidden in fact that when I mentioned it to friends who live locally, they had never heard of it.  It is a student pub but not of the grungy sort, I can imagine post grads rather than first years here.  Having said that, it was warming to watch a family of four on the next table, playing cards while they waiting for their meals – is this a return to old-fashioned family values?

The Standard has history, especially links with the Fitzroy Football Club.  As we were waiting for our meal, two guys were reading the memorabilia that was on the wall above our table, realising there could be an issue of personal space, were apologetic telling us that they were long time Fitzroy supporters and were admiring the feats of the club of yesteryear, a bit like a pilgrimage to sacred sites.  Looking  at the memorabilia of the Fitzroy  FC, shows how much life has changed.  The poster they were looking at commemorated Fitzroy creating a new VFL record high score – 36 goals 22 points 238 to Melbourne 6 goal 12 points 48.  This was achieved on Saturday 28 July 1978 at VFL Park.

Looking at this poster gave me pause for though, it was a snap shot of a time that had changed. There is no Fitzroy FC any more, it went north and became the Brisbane Lions (originally the Brisbane Bears), the VFL is now the AFL and VFL Park is now a housing estate.  For me, that one poster captured change in my life time – this musing makes me realise how time is passing, this isn’t history, it’s within my lifetime!

The menu at The Standard had the flavour of being ‘a little bit fancy’; the parma featured feta, the chicken kiev, usually a volcano of garlic butter boasted porcini mushrooms,sage and macadamia nuts. and was served with parmesan, chive and potato mash with a garlic veloutè.  I have to say, I actually don’t know what veloute is.

Although the menu may have ambitions, the delivery of a basket containing cutlery, pepper and salt, 2 slices of white vienna and sachets of Western Star butter brought us back to the ‘pub’ environment.  And I have to say that white vienna bread with a good dollop of butter is a little slice of cholesterol inducing heaven.

What we ate:  Thelma went the Delux Parma and reported it to be satisfactory but was not convinced that the addition of feta did anything to enhance its ‘ parmaness’. I, for some reason, went the for the veggie burger from the specials board, it was ok but interestingly didn’t come with salad of any sort, which surprise me.

On reflection, I may mock the fanciness of the menu, but there were several veggie options, quite a change from the good old pub days where if you asked for a vegetarian meal you got a plate of chips or were told “that’s ok we have chicken!”.

What we drank: Vale Vipa and Chestnut Pilsner from Bridge Road Brewers these were on tap and fit into the little bit fancy theme of the pub.  Thelma would like it noted that the  pilsner had the faint aroma of bacon rind about it, she was right, you know that smell of uncooked rind , didn’t taste that way.

The cost of our meal was $45: the delux parm $20, the veggie burger $15 and the beers $10.

Before we left, following our mother’ training we went to use the facilities and had a most disconcerting experience. Now The  Standard has a lovely, beer garden, quite a treat for an inner city pub, and it is well used, even on a night like this where there was a nip in the air. So? I hear you ask, well let me tell you the quaint louvered windows of the loos face in to the beer garden, like speakers in an amphitheatre.  Now, I don’t know what people on the outside can hear, but on the inside you can hear every word from the garden.

Not a criticism, just a warning!

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