In a part of Melbourne awash with pubs pouring good beer, the Carringbush Hotel still holds a special place in the history pages of the city’s inner north. It might not be the oldest boozer in the area but it does share a name inherently linked with Abbotsford.
Carringbush was the term given by author Frank Hardy to the suburbs of Collingwood and Abbotsford, most famously in Power Without Glory, where the novel’s retelling of the life of Australian Labor Party figure John Wren landed the author with a rare charge of criminal libel.
And it feels fitting the pub should bear the name of those old works as, from the outside, the pub’s corner location below the trains passing overhead looks so deep-rooted it feels almost timeless.
Yet, when the building was put up for sale in 2018, it could have easily been the end of the line for the storied pub, destined to meet the fate of many others in the area that have quietly disappeared over the years. But, as luck would have it, the building was instead snapped up on a long lease by some familiar faces from Melbourne’s hospo world.
Liam Matthews, Joel Morrison and Singa Unlayati have run The Old Bar in Fitzroy together since 2007; it makes taking over the Carringbush quite a change of pace for the custodians of one of the city’s top live music venues. And, while you’re still likely to find local musos inside, there’s a greater chance they’ll be enjoying a beer or meal rather than gracing a stage as the revitalised Carringbush is instead focused on the essentials of a modern pub.
When it reopened at the start of 2019, gone were many of the internal walls and worn out floors and in their place was a light, bright and open space. A horseshoe bar still greets anyone who enters; now, however, the front bar comes decorated with greenery amid its white walls, exposed brick and expansive windows – a combination that makes the public bar feel more inviting to the public than it likely ever has. It’s one where you’ll spot neighbouring families enjoying a meal alongside old friends playing a game of chess while a few Collingwood fans sit, eyes fixed on the footy on the screen, behind them.
Liam, Joel and Singa also introduced a major expansion to the drinks offering from that horseshoe bar: there’s now 21 taps that flit between almost any style you could wish for. Breweries like Stomping Ground, Temple, Fixation and Moon Dog are all mainstays while a Mountain Goat randall is filled each week with different fruits, coffee beans or herbs. The taps not dedicated to beer focus on wine, apart from the one pouring kombucha.
The decision to pour more than just beer and cider through their taps comes from the owners’ desire to avoid packaging wherever they can in order to run the venue as sustainably as possible. It means straws are a no-no while the ethos extends to the menu, which is totally meat-free. Dumplings, gnocchi, chilli non carne, sweet potato steak and burgers make for a menu that’s not just interesting and diverse for a pub setting but also one that comes with options hearty enough for diners who’d usually be eyeing up some slow-cooked meats or fried chicken.
This sustainable ethos feels like an approach that should be intrinsic to the essence of any modern pub and, as it helps bring a new, eclectic and diverse crowd through the doors, it feels like this century old pub is well set for the next hundred years too.