Depending on who you listen to, Footscray is either a dangerous suburb riddled with heroin and meth, held hostage by gangs, a soon-to-happen real estate boom, or an uber-trendy hipster hangout.
Those that live there know it to be a tight knit community full of immigrants, families, and small business (and, yeah, some uber-trendy hipsters too). It also has a lot of good beer. And, since we visited in 2016 on a Western suburbs crawl, it has only gotten more exciting.
Let’s take a walk and see what we can find.
Stop One – Bar Josephine
It was mentioned as “another bar” back in our 2016 Crafty Crawl of the area. While Bar Josephine was excellent back then, with a couple more years under its belt the vision and vibe of the bar is firmly ensconced in Footscray’s drinking landscape. It’s also the kind of place where bar staff will greet a dog by name (and a Schmacko) while they pour its owner a sample of a new release (and there will be dogs at the bar. There always are).
Owner Aaron Firth Donato modeled it on North Melbourne bar Prudence. Anyone who has visited Prudence at any point over the last decade will definitely find similarities. Classic and esoteric movies are projected onto the back wall, solo drinkers read books and groups play cards. Outside, people share tables and make new friends, while couples laze about on wood crate seats.
We haven’t even talked about the beer yet but we can assure you Bar Josephine continually knocks it out of the park. The tap list is ever-changing, and you can expect one-offs, rarities, IIPAs, and sours from kettle to lambic. They do takeovers, launches and more, while, on Wednesdays, selected taps take a price plunge to clear the lines and you can expect $6 pints or $7 tulips of fancy beer.
Make sure, as you enjoy your night, to keep an eye out for the the owner’s mum’s artwork on the shelves. It’s a little weird and a lot creepy. You’ll know it when you see it.
Indulge your desire for sours, dogs and creepy art at 295 Barkly Street.
Stop Two – The Cheeky Pint
Opening in 2018, The Cheeky Pint was originally slated to have a brewery on site. However, due to red tape, owner Mitch Peacock has ended up brewing offsite. His range of four beers is complemented by a cider, five guest taps and three handpumps. That means everyone is catered for, and if you can’t decide there are tasting paddles.
Other than the beer, food is a hero here too. The menu often changes and chef Massimo Spedaletti, who has spent time in fine dining, loves to experiment with beer as an ingredient. That means you’ll find stout in the paté, and tacos using smoked beef that's then braised in the IPA.
Don’t sleep on the parma either, it’s a giant serve, one that matches any in the city. Parma review blog, ParmaDaze (basically The Crafty Pint but for parma) said:
“For $25 I wouldn’t hesitate returning to the Cheeky Pint for a parma. This is a top tier pub feed using high quality ingredients and I’d have no qualms shelling out another $25 any day of the week.”
Top that off with sports on the telly, and you’ve got a great stop for any crawl. But let’s not settle in because we have three more stops!
Grab that cheeky pint at 231 Barkly Street.
Stop Three – Sapa Hills
At this point, you’re going to go past Littlefoot and Mr West, but we spoke about them last time we crawled Footscray and surrounds. They're no less exciting today so stop in for a drink, but we aren’t here to retread old ground. Onwards and upwards for this particular crawl and, if you didn’t eat at The Cheeky Pint, then the next two stops are for you.
Sapa Hills is a mainstay of Footscray Vietnamese dining, where restaurants come and go at an alarming frequency. Sapa Hills has remained for ten years and, while it's a classic large-menu, Vietnamese restaurant joint offering dishes that span Vietnam, Thailand and China, it also offers dishes that take a more modern approach to Vietnamese food. There’s a ten-hour short rib served with pickles, and Mekong Lamb ribs cooked with whisky.
The beer here puts all other Southeast Asian restaurant in Melbourne to shame (a big statement that I’ll stand by). Expect one-offs and rotations from the likes of La Sirène, Hop Nation, Batch, Two Birds and Garage Project. At time of writing, a big bottle of Two Birds Pina Dorada Hazy Pale had just hit the menu and is dying to be split over a spicy feast.
It’s a busy place, but they’ve opened up a venue next door (with the same menu) called Sapa Sister to help ease the load, so wait times for tables are a little easier to handle.
Savour the flavours at 112 Hopkins Street.
Stop Four – Bad Love Club
After all that sweaty, sticky Vietnamese food, a short walk is just what you need. Don’t worry, though, we won’t tire you out because we're headed a mere 100m to Bad Love Club, the self described “Boozy Bakery” that bakes treats in the afternoon for late night crowds. It’s colourful, it’s fun, and it’s friendly.
You can get a meat pie made with Hop Nation’s The Buzz or, if you feel like something sweet, they have things like dark chocolate and peanut butter stout cake or white chocolate, raspberry and prosecco cheesecake. Things change daily here so don’t assume these will be available on the day, but definitely assume you will have deliciously sweet times.
To drink are two taps of Hop Nation and tins and bottles from the likes of CoConspirators, Moon Dog and 3 Ravens. It’s the kind of place that probably shouldn’t exist: late night boozy bakery with craft beer and cocktails? I’ve never heard of such things. And in Footscray? Of all places? While it definitely makes no sense, we are so happy that it’s here.
Be bad at Shop 5/68-82 Hopkins Street.
Stop Five – Hop Nation
You definitely need a bigger walk by now, and 20 minutes isn’t so bad when the destination is as good as Hop Nation. It probably needs no introduction to readers of The Crafty Pint, but if you don’t know who they are, Hop Nation is the creation of Sam Hambour and Duncan Gibson: two winemakers who set up shop in an industrial area of Footscray and created cult beers like The Chop and Jedi Juice.
The taproom features 15 taps pouring the brewery’s own beer, plus the occasional guest or collab. Takeaways in growlers, canimals, bottles and cans are available. You can even get wine, which is made – along with the soured beers – under the Site Fermentation label. Grab a tinnie of Pinot Noir why don’t ya! (You seriously can, and you seriously should).
It’s not a luxe, modern brewpub, by any means. When it’s not open, the barrels and chairs are moved aside and the space becomes brewery floor. You’ll probably notice a weird smell from the fish processing plant nearby, and the wooden seats upstairs are hard to move and a little bit uncomfortable. Weird smells and hard chairs are easily overlooked when the beers are great, the vibe is easy, and there’s fried chicken from the Chookity Wings pop up on a semi-regular basis.
Wend your way through the warehouses until you chance upon 6/107-109 Whitehall Street.
Still got a thirst for more? Well, you're in luck as Footscray has plenty more colourful options for anyone seeking a crafty beer, inside or out – often with a delicious accompaniment, big screen sport or live music too.
- Victoria Hotel, 43 Victoria Street – It’s a stripped back old pub that’s stripped so far back it feels unfinished. You’ll get a Fixation or a Hop Nation on tap. The food is reasonably priced and fancier than most pubs; but you’ll still get a parma of course and its black pudding Scotch egg should not be overlooked, if that’s your thing.
- The Creators Lounge, 116a Hopkins Street – In the process of being revamped at time of writing, The Creators Lounge is evolving from a barber shop and bar combo into a more general sports bar. It’s hard to say what it’ll look like when it reopens but expect local beers, NBA on the big screen and American-influenced food.
- Lickety Split, 38/40 Moreland Street – This is a chill outdoor venue from the crew behind St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, and nearby spots Slice Girls Pizza and the Line function space. Easey’s burgers sling food from a small caravan and there’s table tennis inside. Beer is pretty safe: Furphy and Panhead, but you’ll find a Two Birds tap and some goodies in the fridge.
- Pride of our Footscray, 1/86-88 Hopkins Street – A community-owned space designed with the LGBTIQA+ community in mind. On tap you’ll get Mountain Goat, La Sirène and Two Birds. Gage Roads are also big supporters and their beer is always in the fridge. For food, they team up with nearby Ethiopian, Italian and Chinese restaurants to deliver. It even has a sports nook, where you can watch the footy while playing pool on a Western Bulldogs branded pool table. Footscray AF.
- The Night Heron, 228 Nicholson Street – Yet another space in Footscray with its own unique take on late night drinking. On tap you’ll find Two Birds and Hop Nation, while food comes from next door Mexican chicken joint, Los Pollos. Music is a focus here and live acts range from mellow acoustic to experimental electronic. Plus it has a lovely little beer garden.
NB "Crafty Crawl" is our catch-all title for suburb, area or PT line guides to good beer around Australia and we're not suggesting you take any of them on in one go unless, of course, they're approached sensibly.