America is, in many ways, not one country but many. With 50 states spread across most of a continent, it’s a place where myriad accents, cuisines and voting preferences all somehow manage to coalesce into a single country that works. Most of the time anyway.
Even within states, those differences can be acute and there’s likely no better example of that than the Golden State of California. There, both locals and tourists like to draw an imaginary line and divide the state into two distinct regions: NorCal and SoCal. The former is home to the wineries, Silicon Valley and perhaps the world’s greatest public transport system in the BART. The latter is warmer and is where you’ll find Hollywood, theme parks and a food and drink culture often influenced by Latin America.
So, when Byron Barrowclough and brothers Nick and Tom Welch opened The Silverlake Social on Chapel Street late in 2016, they didn’t try to recreate America in a small pocket of Prahran but instead focused on what they loved about Southern California.
And a homage is certainly what they’ve achieved, even down to the bar’s name, which is taken from a suburb in Los Angeles. Silver Lake is a trendy hangout, somewhere LA’s younger population spends its Saturdays moving between cafés, stores and bars, only to wake up and repeat it all again on Sunday. It has the kind of nightlife where you wouldn’t be surprised to find yourself buying a beer next to a legendary footballer or an actor you’d seen in a show years earlier and couldn’t quite place. In other words, it’s pretty much Prahran.
When it opened, The Silverlake Social immediately reinvented the space that a Chinese restaurant that had called home for five decades. The venue’s Californian state flag, arcade machine and wooden-panelled bar all make it clear that this is as much a celebration of good times as it is of SoCal.
Leading that warm welcome is the beer list, with 14 taps that primarily focus on the best of what California has to offer, whether they happen to be in the north or south. It means the likes of Stone Brewing, Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada are all regularly on rotation, with some of America’s other bigger names, from Blue Moon to Brooklyn Brewery, also pouring. Beers far closer to home also make regular appearances, with the owners unsurprisingly being big fans of local, West Coast-influenced IPAs.
Silverlake’s focus on American beer also means it’s the kind of bar that regularly acts as a launching pad for those breweries from the States looking to entice new palates in Australia. Even for those American craft breweries that have been here for some time, often Silverlake is the first place in Melbourne you’ll find their new releases.
The bar also offers a broad spirits list, with a wide selection of both tequila and mezcal taking up as prominent a spot on the shelves as you’d expect in an LA bar. Breaking with the Californian tradition, the bar also stocks plenty of bourbons, though much of the other spirits are straight out of the Golden State.
The food menu is equally inspired, meaning some are classics associated with America, while others come with Mexican twists. This includes smaller options like deep fried mozzarella sticks (with cheese straight from Cali), buffalo wings and tacos as well as larger options such as ribs and steaks. And it’s all served right through to 12.30am.
To further encourage the feeling of being transplanted from Prahran to another land, at almost any moment you’ll find the Silverlake screens showing NBA, UFC or whatever sport those in the land of the red, white and blue are tuned to at the time.
For major events like the Super Bowl the bar can book out weeks in advance, as it can for America’s most prominent holidays. On such occasions, it fills with a mix of expats and those looking for a taste of SoCal with a tasty hop forward beer to wash it down.
And it’s in those moments in particular, with a West Coast IPA in hand, that Silverlake feels more like California’s south than Melbourne’s.