While there’s no shortage of suburbs across Australia undergoing rapid change, few can lay claim to the kind of reinvention Footscray has been experiencing. The traditionally working-class suburb has seen an explosion of new bars and restaurants over the last few years, becoming something of a hub for good beer in Melbourne’s west.
One place leading the charge towards better beer since it opened at the start of 2016 is Up in Smoke. Not too long ago, the immediate area was comprised mostly of warehouses; the venue’s building was previously home to an old mechanics. Today, apartment buildings surround it, while the level of construction suggests the area’s boom won’t be slowing any time soon. Clearly, the team behind Up in Smoke – including some of the group from the much-loved burger joint 8bit. – saw the direction in which Footscray was heading and got in early.
Despite giving the building a significant reinvention before opening, they allowed evidence of the its building’s former life as a mechanics to remain: the towering sign leading people inside that declares “let there be smoke”, the bar’s high ceiling and the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Behind large glass doors sits the centrepiece of a business that takes its name from a classic Cheech and Chong film – the smoker. Each morning from six, Up in Smoke’s chefs load the smoker with beef brisket, ribs, sausages and a whole host of other meats, cooking them slowly and lovingly until the evening crowds arrive.
Yet, while the low-and-slow tradition of American BBQ is central to the Up in Smoke ethos, the venue draws its inspiration from various regions of America – as well as Australia – with the unifying ethos being one of comfort food done well.
The bar’s ten taps are mostly taken up by Victoria’s smaller breweries with particular love and attention given to neighbouring breweries like Two Birds and Hop Nation and Bonehead. Those taps all rotate regularly, with local breweries’ core ranges often sitting next to more obscure limited releases. For anyone after more, there’s no shortage of bottles and cans in the well-stocked fridge behind the bar, where, again, the focus is on Australian made, while there’s strong local representation on the wine list and modern twists on cocktails rounding out the drinks menu.
As a venue, the focus is on creating a casual dining space where people can catch up, unwind and enjoy themselves while quality beer and cuts of beast steadily make their way onto tables and into mouths. For anyone who has an educational bent alongside their carnivorous one, the bar also hosts monthly “Brewer's Feast” dinners, where the beer of a local brewery is paired with four courses.
On warmer evenings, the side street beer garden that comes to life at night, particularly during the warmer months. Up in Smoke’s second smoker – half the size of the one inside but still formidable by most standards – fires out the kind of olfactory-tempting aromas that no doubt encourage many stopping in for “just one beer” to weaken and try something from the menu too.
Completing the picture is a late licence that, on weekends, sees beer and cocktails pouring long after the last piece of pork has been pulled – before the smokers are fired up again a few hours later.