“Melburnians love a beer garden,” says Union Hotel publican Jarrod Hancock. “Any time there’s sun, they’ve got to get in it.”
The beer garden (or “biergarten”) is one of Germany’s great cultural exports, helping to turn outdoor drinking into a national sport – hello, Oktoberfest. Nineteenth-century Bavaria is the acknowledged birthplace but Munich holds the honour for the largest beer garden, with Hirschgarten able to hold about 8000 ruddy-faced punters. In Melbourne, the Village Brasserie (formerly Belgian Beer Cafe Bluestone) probably takes the gong, with room for at least 1700 people.
“I think it’s just the informality of it that people love,” says Andy Kerr, long-time publican of the Standard Hotel, a pub with one of the most well-known and well-loved beer gardens of the inner north.
Kerr says beer gardens aren’t a traditional feature of Australian pubs and that the land out the back was usually earmarked for outhouses, domestic-style kitchens, “and you might have a horse”.
“The only place I can really think of, when I was starting to drink in the ‘60s,” says Kerr, “was Jimmy Watson’s that had a beer garden. And even then, it’s not very big. A few other places had little outdoor areas.”
Now beer gardens can help define a pub and are a huge pull for many punters.
Melbourne’s Boatbuilder’s Yard (Riverland bar’s younger sibling) is taking things to the next level, creating a dedicated “cider garden”, and upping the outdoor ante with a bocce ground that doubles as a kids’ sandpits. “Both venues have public access right through the middle of them, which is quite unique,” says Michelle Tankey. The Boatbuilder’s proximity to Polly Woodside means school groups and families will quite often wander through, plus cyclists and tourists. “We’re tyring to create a park almost, a real community space.”
The Union Hotel’s astroturfed beer garden recently hit the small screen, appearing on Channel 7’s Winners and Losers. “Yeah, I thought it came up all right on TV,” says Hancock.
So what makes a good beer garden? “Flora. Greenery. Less concrete,” says Hancock. “Look at the Retreat, they’ve got that beautiful giant tree and you just want to sit underneath it.”
“Nice timber,” he adds, “And good beer.”
Here are five of our favourite beer gardens.
The Standard Hotel
The Standard has an established beer garden with room for 120. Half undercover, heated, and with a retractable roof, there’s lots of greenery, chunky timber tables, and ad-hoc benches for people to perch.
293 Fitzroy Street, Fitzroy. Phone: 9419 4793. thestandardhotel.com.au
Expect big things from January 14 – creepers, climbers and apple trees are currently being planted, plus there’ll be art installations, a “cider garden” with bleacher seating and director-style deck chairs, and bocce/sandpit area. Meanwhile, just kick back in the fine open-air space, right on the waterfront.
Boatbuilder’s Yard: 23 South Wharf Promenade, South Wharf. Phone: 9686 5088. theboatbuildersyard.com.au Also check out Riverland: Vaults 1-9 Federation Wharf, Fed Square. Phone: 9662 1771.
Bishop of Ostia
In this largish, protected space, camouflage netting creates dappled light near the wooden decking while umbrellas and astroturf (right up the walls) create a festive vibe. Down the back are blooming garden beds of vegies and herbs, some of which, such as pineapple sage or lemon verbena, turn up in the cocktails.
79 Nicholson Street, East Brunswick. Phone: (03) 9388 8858. bishopofostia.com.au
The gnarled Port Jackson fig is the crowning glory of this indoor/outdoor architectural space designed by the Six Degrees team. Expect lots of different textures, a loud, always-busy, buzzing vibe.
545 Church Street, Richmond. Phone: 9429 5277. royalsaxon.com
Union Hotel Brunswick
Before its revamp four years ago, the beer garden was a concrete expanse with a shed for “private shows”. Now it’s a warm, timbered area strung with party lights and leafy with vines and garden beds. It seats around 80.
109 Union Street, Brunswick. Phone: 9388 2235. unionhotelbrunswick.com.au
Spottiswoode Hotel, 62 Hudsons Road, Spotswood (opposite Spotswood Station) Phone: 9391 1330. spottiswoode.com.au
Windsor Castle, 89 Albert Street, Prahran. Phone: 9525 0239
Sentido Funf, 243 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. Phone: 9416 2689 sentidofunf.com.au
What’s your favourite Melbourne beer garden?