Icon review: The Standard Hotel

The Standard Hotel in Fitzroy is one of Melbourne's favourite pubs.
The Standard Hotel in Fitzroy is one of Melbourne's favourite pubs. Photo: Jason South

293 Fitzroy Street Fitzroy, VIC 3065

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Opening hours Mon-Tue 3pm-10pm; Wed-Sat noon-11pm; Sun noon-10pm
Features Bar, Outdoor seating, Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, Gluten-free options
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9419 4793

Melbourne rules: if you pledge allegiance to a pub, you'd best be prepared for war. Melburnians might not be supporting our history-laden watering holes as much as we once did, as sprawling drink-in breweries and wine bars vie for the youth dollar and a national lean towards wellness undermines the institution of spending evenings down at the boozer.

But we have not surrendered our right to punch on about which of Melbourne's battlers is its best (or oldest). Name Fitzroy's Standard Hotel as your weapon of choice, however, and you're probably on a safer wicket than most.

It's the courtyard, a sprawling, leaf-enshrouded site of a million post-work shindigs and pre-marriage parties chosen to find neutral ground between picky aunts from Cobram and your tricky mates from Collingwood.

The ace in the hole is the sprawling garden with retractable roof.
The ace in the hole is the sprawling garden with retractable roof. Photo: Jason South

They're pouring Melbourne Bitter alongside cutting-edge craft (no VB though, despite this being the set of Boony's famous ads for the brew in the '90s).

They serve a fat, classic parma (on the chips, which I confess is controversial), but also crisp-battered cauli florets with whipped tahini, and roo steaks, which have been on the menu here longer than the meat has been championed by many woke restaurants.

There's some zen-like mastery that goes into making a place that, over 150 years of continual operation (minus the odd fire), keeps up with changing tastes and simultaneously appears to never change.

Kangaroo steak and red wine sauce.
Kangaroo steak and red wine sauce. Photo: Jason South

Current pub custodian Paul O'Bree, who started here as a bartender 16 years ago, says the key is the "continual invisible freshen up", changing things gradually so that people never notice. It works. He says people who drank here in their sharehouse days return a decade hence and say, "It's just the same". It's not.

The cricket memorabilia (Boonie for PM!), the elbow-polished bar, dark carpets and woody curves all have timeless charm.

O'Bree says he loves that the menu works the same way. "We can go as deep retro as we like and serve chicken kiev without anyone batting an eye."

In the '90s, the pub was the site for beer ads starring cricketer David Boon.
In the '90s, the pub was the site for beer ads starring cricketer David Boon. Photo: Jason South

But there are snags from boutique butcher Meatsmith, and the daily curry is cauliflower and potato for the vegan crowd, too.

That's precious stuff when plenty of Melbourne's finest boozers have been gentrified, eradicating much of the scuzzy charm that once made them feel accessible to all. Developers have further preyed on the premium corner sites on which most pubs sit, due to 1870s licensing regulations that required hotels to have separate entrances for their accommodation and bar.

At least the Temperance movement has shuffled off. From 1906 to 1917, their teetotalling pressure led to a Licensing Reductions Board, which cancelled an annual quota of licences (for compensation) to reduce the wanton boozy culture left over from the gold rush.

Meatsmith snags and mash.
Meatsmith snags and mash. Photo: Jason South

But the Standard is not just a boozer. Winter is for Tuesday quizzes. The Sunday alt-country music sessions will start again next year. It's almost time for the annual cricket comp raising money for the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, which treated the former publican's brother in his last days.

True, other Melbourne pubs tick these boxes. The Palace. The Rainbow. The Napier. All set a gold standard for what Melbourne pubs are meant to be about.

Still, if you hold that a pub is nothing without its stories, try this on for size: once, one Anzac Day, a veteran's horse walked into the goddamn bar. I'll raise two Victorian pints to that.

Est. 1865

Signature dishes Roo and red wine, parma.

Famous diners Boony!

https://www.thestandardhotel.com.au/