Every now and then, a new venue comes along that feels like an instant classic. Welcome to Mr West, Footscray’s latest ode to craft beer, wine, spirits and good times.
While housed in an unassuming stretch of the pedestrianised Nicholson Street Mall, as soon as you climb the stairs to the first floor bar any hesitations about its location are instantly left behind.
Wood, metal, mirror and concrete come together to form a space that’s both inviting and imbued with a sense of occasion, as your eyes immediately follow the long stretch of wooden bar that takes up a significant stretch of the righthand wall.
Made from old railway sleepers painstakingly refinished, the bar is a monumental centrepiece for this modern and minimalistic fit out that stretches from an airy beer garden at the front to a set of inviting booths down the back. But, when you’re dealing with a team that doesn’t muck around when it comes to good booze, you know the bar is the focal point for good reason.
Here, you will find 24 taps of wine, cider and primarily beer, surrounded by shelves stocking the best of local and international spirits. Lagavulin, Glenlivet and friends are joined by mezcals, cachaça and local offerings by the likes of Nant, Melbourne Moonshine, Four Pillars Gin and more.
On tap, their love of the local is clear, with beers from Two Birds, La Sirène, 3 Ravens and Boatrocker all making appearances alongside international rockstars like Mikkeller, To Øl, Brew Dog and Almanac. If you were lucky enough to make it along on opening night in August 2017, there was even a keg of Cantillon Fou' Foune to be found.
Wines from Quealy Winemakers, Negronis and espresso martinis also make the tap list, so all-comers should find something to crow about. Glasses filled with cocktail garnishes and monogrammed menus add a touch of finesse to the bar area, as do perfectly presented cheese boards stacked with stinky blues and strips of prosciutto.
So, with such a stellar tap list and clear attention to detail, who is behind such a well delivered and cohesive venue? Surely some stalwarts of Melbourne hospitality who have seen it all?
In some ways, yes. But with a little less grey behind the ears than you might think. Mr West came about after its owners (and mates) Josh Hodges and Caleb Baker lamented the lack of options in the west for people wanting good beer, good wine and good spirits, all in the same place.
While Josh was on the road as a rep for Feral, and Caleb was doing the same for Custard & Co cider, they both had strong backgrounds in Melbourne hospitality from bartending throughout their 20s and knew what it would take to deliver such a venue.
Since quitting their jobs to throw everything at it, what they’ve created has rapidly become a Footscray favourite. This neighbourhood bar seems just as suitable for a quick beer with a mate as it does for a late night filled with too many Negronis.
But it's also music to the ears of those seeking fine drops for takeaway. As you enter the building, you're first greeted by a bottleshop in the same industrial style, teeming with good products of both grain and grape, allowing patrons to discover new favourites upstairs and grab a bottle of their own before they head home.
Beer fridges divided by style fill an entire wall, with drops from local Melbourne favourites like Hop Nation, 3 Ravens and friends, while internationals make themselves known too.
The bottleshop serves as a true representation of the care and attention to detail taken by Hodges and Baker, with each fridge set to the ideal drinking temperature for the beverages within, including storing minimal intervention wines chilled whenever possible.
This commitment continues right through to the glass of beer put in front of you at the bar: all beers, both keg and package, are stored cold from the moment they arrive, something the team is incredibly proud to have achieved.
If you're in the mood for spirits, wander up to the counter and you can grab your new favourite gin or whisky, or perhaps get a wine recommendation from the thoroughly educated staff to narrow down your choices from the heaving shelves behind.
With wine or beer for the weekend ahead acquired, well, it must be time for a drink. Conveniently, it's not exactly a long walk up the stairs.
By Kerry McBride