167 Enmore Rd Enmore, NSW 2042
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 12pm–12am ; Sun 12–10pm|
|Features||Licensed, Bar, Accepts bookings, Pub dining, Outdoor seating|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9240 3000|
I love Newtown and Enmore. Many weekends have been spent eating my weight in fried chicken at Hartsyard or sitting in the Townie beer garden discussing the finer points of Ringo Starr solo albums. It's always been a ripper part of the universe to get shickered and ring your friends.
Except things have changed over the past couple of years. King Street and Enmore Road are a shadow of the post-midnight fun zones they once were. The C's Flashback-clad rockers found rolling cigarettes outside local gigs are being replaced by buzzed-up blokes with a penchant for Red Bull and yelling at cars.
Perhaps the inner-city lock-out laws are to blame, shifting gym bros from the Cross to Newtown. Or perhaps I should stop longing for a time when Juice magazine ruled the world. But it seems that Queens Hotel is the only tolerable pub open after midnight in the area.
My 22-year-old self is dead-set fuming I would choose to drink at a Justin Hemmes-led Merivale joint instead of the Town Hall Hotel but, on a Saturday night, here we are, smashing a bottle of Tommy Ruff 2017 Poolside Syrah ($14/$70) and swiping Chinese fried bread through XO pipis ($36). It sure beats a bag of Twisties in the midnight snack Hunger Games.
Merivale relaunched Enmore Road's Queen Victoria Hotel as just "Queens" in late 2016. The ground-level public bar is full of brass trim, stained wood and a few beaut beers on tap.
Upstairs you can find Queen Chow, the Kikky soy-soaked Cantonese diner from chefs Patrick Friesen and Christopher Hogarth, plus the Smelly Goat, a library-style bar named after a taxidermied goat's head that had an eau de chevre when removed from its packing box.
Hemmes has certainly dropped some taxidermy coin at the Goat, and the bar is backed by beautiful display of mallards, chooks and a Canada goose. The goat noggin and pair of badgers gargoyle the entrance. (It's unfortunate that one of the badgers is wearing a hat – my absolute stuffed-pet hate.)
Smelly Goat rocks a bar snack-sized version of the Queen Chow menu proper. Salt-and-pepper squid ($24) is deep-fried, garlic-fied and wired with chilli – cracking fodder for a Young Henrys Newtowner ($9), and Chongqing-style fried chicken wings ($18) are hot, numbing, golden and juicy.
A supper menu kicks in at 11pm, featuring those delicious pipis plus a $32 steam basket of fat and perfect dumplings from Level 10 pleating mage Eric Koh.
A peppy cocktail list has been created by bar manager Harrison Westlake, who guides a young team with keen chat and solid skills.
The Chow Sour ($18) is fragrant with Plymouth gin, green apple juice, spiced rhubarb syrup, fresh mint and aquafaba – the vegan eggwhite substitute made from canned chickpea brine. Sour cocktail purists may scoff, but aquafaba can enrich a drink's texture without leaving a filmy mouth coating as eggwhite can. I'm a fan.
There's a lot to love about the wine list, too. Low-intervention Aussie producers such as Ochota Barrels and Lucy Margaux rub necks with bigger ticket French drops. It's a theme that continues into the bottle shop.
However. For all the changes Merivale has made to the Queen Vic, it's a damn shame to find 26 poker machines still leeching off the public bar.
When he snapped up the pub in 2015, Hemmes said: "I am passionate about creating world-class venues designed specifically around the local community." For the most part, the bloke has realised that brief. Queens and the Smelly Goat deliver top food and booze and it's a pleasing point of difference from the neighbourhood's schnitzel-slinging gronk pubs.
I'm not sure how many people are asking for culture-crushing pokies in their local, though. For a hospitality group that has made Sydney a much better place to eat and drink with venues such as Mr Wong and Fred's, it would be amazing to see Merivale become a real leader and blow up the one-armed bandits.
That's something locals would really get shickered and ring their friends about.
If you only drink one thing: a vegan-friendly Chow sour ($18).
Go-to Dish: XO pipis with fried breadstick ($36).