The first time anyone from *The Crafty Pint* stepped inside the KB Hotel, we said it would also be the last. It’s not that there’s nothing to like about a heritage-listed pub that has character oozing – sometimes, you felt, quite literally – from the walls, but the KB gave the impression of a classic boozer past its best; a fading star living on 80-odd years of fond memories and little else.
So when rumours began circulating midway through 2014 about the KB being turned into a craft beer bar, we were intrigued. This was especially so when it was confirmed that change was being performed by the team who had done a sterling job of turning the nearby Dove & Olive into a thriving crafty hub. In a whirlwind seven weeks they took over, ripped out the rot, renovated, restored and reopened. The KB had become the Keg & Brew, gaining an ampersand and a new lease of life.
One of the most notable changes happened behind the bar. Considering the relatively small size of the venue, it’s a genuine surprise to find 33 different beers available here. Six of them are dedicated to mainstream mainstays of Australian world – the “Golden Oldies”, as they’re affectionately labelled – though you won’t find any Tooth’s Lager, despite what the old tiled exterior suggests. Instead, elsewhere you’ve got a very healthy selection of local craft beer.
The majority have their origin in New South Wales, including favourites such as Stone & Wood, 4 Pines and Murray’s, through to newer breweries like Nomad, Modus Operandi and Willie the Boatman. There are also three hand pumps which generally feature something local from Young Henrys and a classic drop from the UK. It’s always worth poking your head in during happy hour to see which of the craft beers are pouring – at $4 a schooner it’s one of the best value post-work pick-me-ups in the city.
In terms of decor, the K&B is a bit of a PETA nightmare: animal hide panels adorn the bar while immense trophy heads of buffalo and deer dominate the walls. It’s all part of a Southern USA theme which runs through the place: American oak floorboards, big selection of bourbon and a food menu that operates under the titles Grub, Grill and Fixin’s. What you’ll find on this are such wonders as KBFC, Big Tex bacon bites, Kentucky bourbon black Angus rump, lobster roll and a bucket of buffalo wings with blue cheese dip. If you’re game, the deep fried twinkie with chocolate and sprinkles is as memorable as it is heart-stopping. With the chef having done time in the kitchen at the Dove & Olive, they’ve got their food formula pretty well nailed down by serving a solid range that sticks to a theme but caters for everyone, mixed in with daily specials that represent excellent value for money.
While all of that is a world away from the old KB, there’s one key thing separating the KB then and the K&B now: it’s busy. The handful of staff who have worked at both told us the change in fortunes since the reopening has been monumental. Contrast days when the entire venue was staffed by a single person with current times when the bar team is, at times, seven strong. Compare the days when the kitchen might as well have stayed closed to lunch hours that now bustle with diners. Add to that the re-opened accommodation offering half a dozen affordable rooms and fortunes at this icon of the Surry Hills scene have certainly changed for the better.