Prior to new owners taking over in early 2011, North Fitzroy's Tramway Hotel was among the many inner Melbourne pubs lacking direction: sad, in need of love and with a dwindling band of regulars. Little more than a year later it was packed to the rafters with beer lovers when it became home to South Australia's breweries during Good Beer Week's Pint of Origin series ' a sure sign of the amazing turnaround wine industry professional Jess Tregonning and former Polyester Records owners Chris Crouch and Warwick Lobb achieved in a short space of time.
They did it by taking a traditional corner hotel in a great location in the heart of North Fitzroy and giving it the treatment it deserve: nothing too flash, simply a good-looking, honest boozer with a fresh personality. In terms of its appearance, that means walls stripped back to the brickwork and painted white, furniture, bar and features of polished timber and the odd painting and sign that hark back to the pub's long past.
In terms of the pub's offering, it means drinks and food done well and without pretension. That goes for the beer: don't expect an array of imported craziness; instead know that you'll find some of the finest homegrown craft beers on tap, mostly from Victoria but with regular guests from interstate. On the food front, the Tramway Burger is something of a local legend - and with good reason, as the hordes that pack every seat on Tuesday's Burger Night will attest - while the entire menu focuses on offering fresh pub fare.
Just in time for Good Beer Week 2014 (at which the Tramway served the brewers of SA once more) the keys to the venue were passed to a new owner, Andrew Lyngcoln, who set about giving it his own touch, albeit with the changes of the subtle variety: a bit of colour on the walls, the odd ornamental hanging. The same quality beers remain on tap, while there's a wide collection of beer in cans – locals as well as the likes of Brooklyn, Pistonhead and BrewDog.
For craft beer to really take hold in Australia, it will take much more than the beer geeks and the bars and bottleshops with lists hundreds long. It will need to find a home in traditional venues boasting environments that are welcoming to allcomers. Just like the Tramway.