What happened to all the old-fashioned pubs?

Memories of days gone by…

Almost three decades ago, a close friend of mine did a road trip up to Mildura with one principal goal in mind – to visit the Mildura Working Man’s Club and see the longest bar in the world.

Well… I was in Mildura last weekend and I did visit the Club, although I was well aware that the longest bar in the world got removed when they did some renovations in 1995. The above illustration is a photo I took of one of the walls in the Club, which serves as a constant reminder of that long gone bar.

Which does get me thinking about a lot of bars which have disappeared due to developers or lost their souls due to renovations. The old fashioned Australian pub – frequently known as ‘a country pub in the city’ has mostly disappeared.

Many are still there, minus what made them special. Poker machines in what used to be the saloon bar and TAB sub outlets in the public bar do tend to rip the soul out of a pub, and those pubs which don’t have those, but which tear out all the old fittings (or even the 1970s era maroon sticky carpets and vinyl coated chairs and tables) to go upmarket are not much better.

This does sadden me. Around Footscray, for example, where my memory of pubs is very accurate and covers those both extant and extinct going back the past five decades, the only pub which survives and remains true to its ‘authentic’ self is the Footscray Hotel. This is an old fashioned bogan pub, complete with sticky carpet and bogan regulars. I love visiting it. I am not so keen on the Courthouse Hotel in Nicholson Street – it has its bogan regulars, but also a TAB and lots of pokies.

The news that the Great Western in King Street is closing for good, to be part of a major redevelopment is sad news, even though it will reopen as part of that redevelopment. It was, for a long time, one of the last remnants of the old school pub in central Melbourne (the Waterside has gone upmarket, and the Elms is now only a facade). It apparently even still had a water well as part of its history – a legacy of the days before a regular water supply in Melbourne.

I have not yet been to the corner of King and Lonsdale Street since the news of the fire gutting Goldfingers. Whilst this is well known as a pole dancing venue in recent years, I have some fond (and not so fond) memories of it when it was the Kilkenny Inn, back in the mid 1990s. It was there that I learned that drinking even two stubbies of Subzero (an alcoholic soda drink happily now long gone) was a sure fire way to get heartburn the next day.

Whilst it has changed (and will continue to change) a lot since I first drank there at age 18 in 1987, Young & Jacksons remains in its character and general atmosphere, the same pub it always has been. Similarly, the Mitre Tavern (complete with its tiles with corny limericks in the toilets) seems unchanged for at least the past 40 years. And the Imperial (God bless it) seems to survive despite regular renovation, character and clientele intact.

Almost everywhere else, there is change, and usually not for the better. I do miss the old school pubs.

Published by Ernest Zanatta

Narrow minded Italian Catholic Conservative Peasant from Footscray.

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