The Tramway Hotel

165 Rae Street Fitzroy North, Victoria 3068

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03 9489 6100
Opening hours Tues-Thurs 5.30-9pm,Fri 5.30-9.30pm,Sat 12.30-9.30pm,Sun 12.30-8.30pm
Features Gluten-free options, Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Mastercard, Visa

THE unusual thing about the Tramway Hotel is that it's survived this long without a makeover. Structurally, the V-shaped bar remains but now there's fresh white paint on the walls, lightening its previous dinginess. It's like the pub's had a shave, been shouted new threads and, consequently, there's a change in its gait - less shamble, more lilt, fresh hope.

A fireplace crackles by the new timber feature wall, there's a big vase of fresh flowers on the communal tables and the smokers' section out back is now half open-air.

The lighting is good but at night the menu, small type on brown paper, is almost impossible to read (iPhone owners, try the Flashlight app). For some former regulars, the revamp marks the end of an era.

The felt-covered pool table, once a battlefield for heated comps, is gone and Carlton Draught no longer flows through the pub's veins. Coopers Pale Ale is the main tap beer of choice, along with organic Mountain Goat Steam Ale, Boatrocker, 2 Brothers pear cider and a rotating tap, now dispensing Guinness.

The goings-on are the work of Chris Crouch, Warwick Lobb (former owners of Polyester Records) and Jessica Tregonning, whose background is in wine.

Framed gig posters decorate the walls and, albums are played in their entirety, creating an alt-country/indie-pop soundtrack. The trio's food concept is a burger bar with a couple of vegetarian offerings, a handful of mains and a few shareables (chicken skewers, marinated octopus). There's no ''burger bar'' as such but there are seven different types in La Madre buns and one steak sanger, all served with good hand-cut chips, parboiled, twice-fried and seasoned with bay and rosemary salt. Very good.

The Tramway is the classic: a juicy, thick patty doctored with Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, paprika, cumin and tomato sauce. Swiss cheese goes on top, then bacon, tomato, cos and Spanish onion. House-made barbecue sauce, tomato relish and aioli keep it saucy.

For vegans, the quinoa burger is a beaut, the quinoa dry-roasted with cumin and coriander then bound with hummus and basil, forming a crumbly patty. It's complete with ''almondnaise'' (almond meal mayo), salad and relish.

The fish option is a slightly gluggy patty of trevally and smoked salmon lifted with dill, basil and garlic oil and crusted in semolina, teamed with lemon and mint yoghurt, smoked paprika aioli and salad.

With all three burgers, the bread was unevenly heated, hard and crunchy in spots, soft and untoasted in others, and the first burger took more than 30 minutes to arrive. It was good when it did, though.

Really, as much as things change, they stay the same. The punters may be a different crew but they're after the same thing: a drink, a feed and some bonhomie - and the revamped Tramway does all that.

 nrousseau@theage.com.au

http://tramwayhotel.com/