As recently as the middle of 2013, The Welcome Hotel was just another pub. Tucked away in a quiet back street in Rozelle it offered cheap beer, run of the mill food and - save for a pleasant outdoor area - little else to distinguish itself from other pubs in the area. In fact, unless you lived locally it's unlikely you'd have known it was there. Fast-forward to the present day and The Welcome Hotel has established a reputation as one of the best craft beer pubs in Sydney.
The turnaround began when first-time publican Liam O'Keeffe took over the place at a time when there was little else on the Balmain peninsula offering good beer. He thought that really ought not to be the case and set about completely transforming the pub from what it was into what it is: namely, far more welcoming.
In doing so, he hasn't torn the place down and started anew as he didn't have to. Set in an old building that dates back to 1878, there's plenty of character here - perhaps what you might call 'essence of pub'. The change is that, beneath some tired old walls, everything now pumping through the veins of this place is of a much higher quality, starting with the beer.
In a near total turnaround from what was previously available, The Welcome Hotel now has 14 taps dedicated to craft beer. It's a constantly changing selection, though most beers are locally sourced and come from the likes of Ekim, Rocks, Riverside, Grifter and Batch Brewing. These are supplemented by a superb bottled beer list, aptly named 'Beer for Legends', that takes in a melange of styles from home and abroad.
Moving from pint to plate, the Welcome excels with its food. No matter if you prefer crisp white tablecloths in the dining room or the more casual crunch of paper napkins at the bar, you really can't go wrong. Chef Dan Mulligan built an excellent reputation at Sydney's renowned Sardinian restaurant, Pilu, and has brought that skill to the Welcome's kitchen. On the bar menu, hearty pub classics have been adapted to feature a Mediterranean slant; Cottoletta with Italian slaw, Sardinian style pork sausages and a sensational Wagyu beef burger made more decadent with pancetta and provolone. The restaurant menu is short but could hardly be sweeter, featuring dishes like Sydney rock oysters, swordfish belly and smoked duck breast that come with all the requisite trappings. The accompanying wine list is extensive and has been carefully selected to match the food. True to form, the selection overwhelmingly favours local and Italian wines.
While there are plenty of pubs that have moved with the changing tastes towards a more complete dining experience that includes craft beer and better food, very few have done it as well as the Welcome Hotel.