The aged photos of rugby players and beer posters bolted to every inch of the wall are proof that The Welcome Hotel was into exposed brick before it was cool.
And while the modernised dining area comes off as yet another attempt by Sydney pubs to extend their pool of punters beyond early bird drinkers and TAB sharks, it’s the unaffected main bar that is the jewel in Welcome’s crown.
Intimate and wood panelled, it’s the perfect drinker’s nook and reminds me of old English pubs. The bar, which wraps in an ‘L’ around the ten or so tables here, is something of an oaky embrace and appears to have stood the 130-odd years the pub itself has endured.
There’s a great selection of craft beers on tap, along with a back bar whisky selection that Dan describes as “aspiring middle class”. (*Note from Dan: I only said this in an attempt to sound knowledgeable and didn’t think I’d be quoted!*)
Given the infancy of my palette – I have a bottle of Johnny Black Label, untouched for fear it will go under appreciated – I let this remark go unchallenged.
Having dismissed the dark liquor as bourgeois, we opt for the Vale Pale Ale and St Arnou Pilsner. The Vale, which topped The Local Taphouse’s Hottest 100 Craft Beers of 2010, is the favourite and is light, crisp and pleasant without being inane – if that can even be said of a drink.
The St Arnou is a top second, made in the traditional Czech style with triple filtering. Its flavour, however, will be forever marred for me, having first tried it on a date with a guy who went on to dump me because my appearance was “becoming an issue” (I had dyed my hair pink and green).
We’d only planned on having a quick beer here but, no doubt wooed by the unforced proximity to both the bar and fresh-faced bartender, Dan opts for a middy before the road. Personally, I consider middies poor value for money, but it sure is nice to hold such a small glass.*
My choice, perhaps spurred by our mention of dark spirits, is the Old Speckled Hen Ale, while Dan stays loyal to the Vale. I suffer another unfortunate flashback – this time to a childhood sadly punctuated by my father’s zest for molasses, which the thick consistency of the Old Hen evokes as effectively as a love song might conjure an old flame (The tasting notes call this “a delicious blend of malty tastes”. My guess is that it’s an acquired taste).
Definitely a tall order for the pale ale palette.
While we soon leave for familiar pastures and larger glasses, I come out feeling like I’ve been secreted away, which is no bad thing. It just goes to show you don’t have to have a back alley entrance for that sense of privileged intimacy that the small bar has harnessed so well. The old corner pub can be just the ticket.
*My friend, working at a bar near the docks, cut his teeth pouring middies for dockworkers to whom the schooner was a bastardisation filtered down from Queensland. It’s no mean feat pouring a good head on a middy when there’s too much gas in the tap, causing the beer to foam up like warm champagne, and you’re serving a customer apt to measure their head with an index finger.
The Welcome Hotel, 91 Evans Street, Rozelle. See The Welcome Hotel website
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate The Welcome Hotel?