Given hustlers tend to use any means necessary to get what they want, Hustler may not at first seem like the best name for a place run by two people as lovely as Justin McPhail and Nick Horgan. That said, while they might not be hustlers, it’s true they’ve never slowed in their mission to give the people of Bendigo better access to craft beer and mouth-watering food.
The two locals spent years working to get better beer into Bendigo after meeting as part of Bendigo Beer, the better beer proselytising organisation launched by Justin and fellow Bendigonian Trev Birks.
Later, in 2016, Justin and Nick’s shared love of quality beer and fried chicken culminated in Flight Bar & Bottleshop; located in a small arcade where everything was made by hand and with great care, it soon developed a reputation far bigger than its size; customers queued up for food they’d then inhale as quickly as it was safe to do so. (From personal experience, given the heat of some of their chilli rubs and hot sauces, there may well be no safe speed to sample some of their offerings…)
Midway through 2019, Justin and Nick took that same approach to the world of burgers, inspired by some of the finest and juiciest burgers to come out of the States. Hustler’s home was originally a small one too; although there was room to dine in and four taps pouring craft beer, much of their business was takeaway. Yet, thanks to the growing popularity of their burgers and fried chicken, the pair started looking for somewhere bigger to give one of those businesses the chance to grow.
But, just as you might drop into Hustler for a beer and end up with a four-beef-patty burger in your mitts, ultimately Justin and Nick opted for something rather larger. Late in 2020, they took over the expansive space on the CBD’s High Street that had previously housed the Exchange Bar. Flight moved from its original home and into Hustler's OG home in Abbott Arcade, while Hustler turned into the impressively grand beast it now, with capacity for more than 700 people from early until late, spread across three separate areas.
The main bar and restaurant is bright, open and surrounded by a beer garden; a spot at one of the shared tables or booths is perfect if you’re there to catch up with someone over a beer. There are ten taps in total, with nine dedicated to independent breweries (including one that’s exclusively nitro) and another for cider, while you’ll also find a wide mix of wines, spirits and cocktails.
The food includes a mix of burgers so wide and varied their sole uniting feature is that you probably shouldn’t tell your cardiologist about them. Then there’s the fries loaded with more different accompaniments than you’d get on most dinner plates, and hot dogs that take you on a global journey through cuisines.
Just as it’s always been at Flight, whatever can be made in house generally is, with great care taken to do away the preconception that nominally “fast food” is made quickly or without any level of care.
Next to the the main bar is Frank’s – a side hustle that focuses on coffee, deli sandwiches and salads, set up to welcome nearby office workers, including those at Bendigo Bank’s head office on their doorstep. Capping that off is a function space with its own pinball and Daytona machines – there in case good beer and good food aren’t enough to keep you entertained.
It’s a grand place that seems a long way from the Centreway Arcade where Justin and Nick first opened Flight. But, at the same time, it’s still about pairing delicious beer and tasty food together. And, together, the pair are just as lovely as ever.