There are few spots to enjoy a pint quite like the front bar at The Retreat. It’s a space soaked in both character and history, where the stained-glass detailing above the well-worn bar and the walls lined with photos of bygone Melbourne create the feeling you’ve travelled back to an earlier point in history.
It’s that cosy front bar that likely caught the eye of the producers of The Sullivans. From 1976 to 1983, Australians turned on their TVs to track the lives of the titular Melbourne family during the Second World War, and this is where they drank. Today, the Sullivan family portrait still sits inside the pub and, in parts of this historic building, there’s a feeling things have barely changed in the years since.
Yet The Retreat’s powers go beyond mere time travel and extend to the sense of community that effortlessly forms around the old boozer. It’s a place where the jokes shared between staff and regulars move from one side of the bar to the other so rapidly that first time visitors can suddenly become enraptured with the world into which they’ve just walked.
And, while it might feel like a pub out of time, that’s not to say it hasn’t evolved. Midway through 2018 change came courtesy of Jess McGrath and Mark Pratt, who had taken over The Palace in South Melbourne five years earlier and turned it into one of Melbourne’s best pubs for good beer, good food and good times south of the Yarra.
At The Retreat, the duo looked to introduce the elements that make The Palace shine. The food menu is one of straightforward yet top quality pub fare, with specials across the week showing that a cheap price on a parma needn’t equate to a substandard one. Across a dozen taps, the beer list focuses on what’s local and what’s good – occasionally looking a little further afield too.
Much like The Palace, The Retreat is probably best described as dog loving more than merely dog friendly; bartenders tend to greet canine visitors with an enthusiasm greater than most people tend to greet their mates. Regulars and their pooches are a common sight on the tree-covered Nicholson Street, a location that acts as one of those fine afternoon spots for a bout of people watching.
While the beer garden may be one that remains almost hidden until you are standing inside it, the plant-lined walls make for quite the discovery for any that do find it. In winter, the open fireplace that roars across the dining rooms pulls people in and easily keeps them at their tables long after the plates are cleared.
Soon after opening, Jess and Mark restored the upstairs function room that shares a name with another revived Abbotsford pub. The Carringbush Room – the name given to the suburbs of Collingwood, Abbotsford and their surrounds by author Frank Hardy – has its own taps, fireplaces, impressive views over the surrounding streets and a mural of the suburb’s iconic Skipping Girl too, capturing the spirit of Abbotsford in more than name alone.
Through each part of the building, it’s the pub’s character – and the characters that inhabit it – which makes it feel just like a good pub should; one that’s created by, and helps create, the community around it. It’s where long-term locals roll in each afternoon to catch up the same way they have for years, where the suburb’s newest residents walk in to grab an IPA and wile away an evening playing a game of pool or pinball, and where all share in a good time.
If only there were more spots to enjoy a pint like The Retreat front bar.