There goes the neighbourhood
I often cross the river and sneak back to my old neighbourhood. Fitzroy has become increasingly gentrified; old houses have been tizzied up and sold for exceedingly high prices. Subsequently most of the artists, writers, junkies, musicians, booze hounds, poets and reprobates I once knew have moved on.
Some of them moved up the coast to Byron Bay or disappeared overseas, whilst others disappeared into the regions. Leaving Fitzroy was the only option once rents skyrocketed and the old rental houses and gnarly old flats that had housed us all were gobbled up by property developers.
Other locals managed to stay in the neighbourhood. One of my friends lived directly opposite the old town hall. Its tower clock struck the hour loudly in the midnight hours. He was a poet and something of a womanizer. Between the striking clock and a former lover – who was prone to weeping on the street below – he didn’t get much sleep.
The saddest part about seeing an inner-city neighbourhood going upmarket is the destruction of magnificent old buildings. Due to the way our Heritage Laws work, this often means they end up being victims of facadism.
The guts of many 19th and 20th buildings are ripped out and all that remains is the outer façade. Contemporary buildings are then blended with the original façade, but the building’s heart and soul are long gone. Leaving nothing behind except a few earthbound ghosts.
It can be spooky walking down a city street late at night and realising that hidden behind the façade of what was once a classic nineteenth century commercial building sprawls a massive supermarket. And that the top floor and roof has been ripped off to provide an open-air carpark where nefarious activities occur after hours.
But here’s the thing folks. There are still some pubs built in the 1800’s that have retained their original purpose, grace and style. How? Because their publicans flatly refuse to give into gambling machines or renovation jobs that would suck the life out of their pub. The toilets and kitchen are often re-plumbed but the pub still looks essentially the same as it always has.
My favourite pub was established in 1866 during the city’s boom period. The hotel is directly opposite the magnificent Fitzroy Town Hall built in 1863. This pub is chockers with old memorabilia: faded football photographs, old Fitzroy football jumpers suspended from the roof and 50’s to 80’s kitsch piled up on the wonky shelves.
It’s been the same way for decades. And even though it’s been repainted a few times everything has been carefully put back as it was. I suspect the old footy jumpers have been washed as they look decidedly brighter. And tucked under the bar – where the wooden bar stools are all lined up – are little bronze hanging hooks for your bags and jackets.
I love all the old dark wood in the joint and the wooden tables and stools. The flooring creaks and sighs when you walk across the bare boards in your cowboy boots. And if the beer keg runs out, one of the bar tables has to be moved, so the barman can lift the trap door and go down to the worn cellar steps to change the kegs over.
Leadlight windows tinge the fading sunlight and the façade is unchanged. There’s a small tower over the corner of the building, decorated with a unique rose motif. Inside the pub the lighting is warm and low and it’s especially cosy in winter when the open fires are lit. But in summer the aircon operates at full bore and it’s a great place to retreat to après beach. You can sit in the front bar sipping an icy cold vodka sodas and listen to the Town Hall clock chime the hours.
What’s more, you know what the hell you are eating. The chicken parma doesn’t need to come with an artist’s statement. The food is lovely fresh produce, cooked with flair, style and utterly delicious. Delectable food that caters to punters who are familiar with culinary diversity.
Sunday roasts are listed on the blackboard menu next to vegan burgers and everyone is happy. The menu changes regularly but retains some old school bar favourites alongside more contemporary innovative cuisine.
Long live old school pubs!
photo collage: Fitzroy Town Hall by Lesley Truffle