There's a blackboard outside the entrance to the Royal Albert Hotel that reads: 'Real Ale. Real Cider. Real Pub'. To passers-by that sign does a pretty good job of summing the place up. But it wasn't always that way...
As recently as the end of 2011 there was little to differentiate this old corner pub in Surry Hills from so many others across the city: boring beer, classic pub grub and pokies formed a pretty traditional set menu. But when new owners took over, they took immediate action and brought the Royal Albert hurtling into the modern age.
First change was the beer, with the mainstream taps ripped out and replaced with a lineup featuring some of the modern pioneers of the Australian craft beer scene like Stone & Wood, Feral and 4 Pines. As Sydney's own fledgling beer scene has since spreads its wings, the Royal Albert opened its taps to most every local brewer that comes knocking. Here you'll regularly see the likes of Modus Operandi, Young Henry's and Batch Brewing. Now, not only do they line up this local-focused range of beers every day of the week, the Royal Albert Hotel is has won legions of fans through its Tap Takeovers. These are nights where a single brewery gets free reign of the 14 taps and two handpumps to showcase their whole range of beer. With the venue averaging nearly 30 takeovers a year, Thursdays are a sure bet for a good time at The Albert.
As the beer offerings have changed, so has the clientele. The old entrenched lager drinkers have either moved on or moved up in taste, while a new audience has been welcomed in. You'll now find a typical crowd at the Royal Albert Hotel is, like the beer selection, noticeable for its diversity. And that's simply down to it having retained its comfortable pub feel and therefore remains a great place to hang out. Sydneysiders will be well aware that trendy Surry Hills isn't short on places to get a drink, but it's fair to say there aren't any traditional pubs in the area that are so immediately welcoming, nor with the same blend of cosy, cool and quality.
Much of that stems from the main bar which is small on size but big on the coziness factor - an absolutely perfect spot for a post-work pint. If you're in the mood to linger and take a load off, there's a larger room out back where you'll find comfy chairs, tables and booth-style seating. This is the area to head if you're after a bite to eat, but don't go there thinking you'll pick up a $10 steak and lager deal because this isn't that sort of pub.
Instead, what you'll find tucked away a little further out the back is the Bamboo Dumpling Bar - part of the pub but a standalone attraction in itself, as the midweek lunchtime crowds flocking there will attest. It's here you can indulge in, say, spicy bbq pork buns to match your IPA, dim sims with your dark lager or Peking duck pancakes washed down with a rich amber ale. As light beer-matching finger food goes, it's pretty hard to beat. Alternatively, the famed Royale with Cheese burger matches it with the very best Sydney has to offer.
Despite the giant strides the Royal Albert Hotel has already made, the owners have no plans to slow down. They were early adopters of craft beer in cans and their selection – also available for takeaway – is as good as anywhere in the city. Add to that a CANimal machine which fills one litres cans directly off the tap so you can take home any fresh beer you want, this is one of Sydney's very best all-round venues for a great beer. But, if beer's not your thing, their selection of spirits is almost entirely comprised from Australian producers – you couldn't accuse them of not supporting their locals.
The Royal Albert Hotel is still the classic pub it's always been, but by making a few key changes to cater for modern tastes it's taken on a completely new life. It's not the kind of place that will win you over with pomp and flair, but everything they do is done with care and attention and will definitely win you over.