The Wood Samaritan review

The Wood Samaritan is like a log cabin as imagined by Disney and a bourbon distiller.
The Wood Samaritan is like a log cabin as imagined by Disney and a bourbon distiller. Photo: Joe Armao

140 Lygon St Brunswick East, VIC 3057

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Opening hours Tue-Thu 3pm-11pm, Fri 3pm-1am, Sat noon-1am, Sun noon-11pm
Features Bar, Licensed
Payments eftpos, Visa, Mastercard

Let's get straight to the heart of it. Do not – repeat – do not come to The Wood Samaritan without the intention of drinking at least one Bloody Caesar. This Canadian-themed bar's version of the Canadian Bloody Mary is worth crossing town for, not least because, in the absence of locally sourced, reasonably priced Clamato (the clam and tomato juice that turns a Mary into a Caesar), they make their own.

They don't spare the spice either. In addition to vodka and Clamato, there's lime and pickle juice, horseradish, worcestershire, hot sauce and a barbecue rub salt rim. And then, if that wasn't enough, it's served in a glass beer stein with a cornucopia of a garnish that includes celery, pickled beans, olives and a lime wedge. It's enough to make your hair curl just looking at it. But it's a completely delicious drink with sweet, citric, salty and spicy notes singing together in perfect harmony. You'll crave this the next time you wake with a hangover.

It's also the right drink to be knocking back at a place like the Wood Samaritan which, true to its name, has a timber-forward design aesthetic that's like sitting in a log cabin as imagined by Disney and a Canadian bourbon distiller.

Hail, Caesar. Don't miss the signature Bloody Caesar.
Hail, Caesar. Don't miss the signature Bloody Caesar. Photo: Joe Armao

There are shingles on the exterior and log print wallpaper inside, where there's also a timber bar, bar joinery and ceiling panelling. There's exposed brick, a canoe on one wall, and enough Canadian-themed knick-knackery to make a minimalist break out in hives. The lighting has a theme-appropriate cosy glow and, upstairs, there's an apartment-sized lounge and dining area chockful of second-hand couches and armchairs.

Pushing the theme almost to breaking point, the soundtrack's all blues and bluegrass versions of popular songs. Combined with the ridiculous dad-joke name it should all be too much, but there's a good-humoured earnestness to the place that pulls it back from the brink of annoying.

The Canadian-themed cocktails are worth a look beyond the Caesar. Some are more successful than others. On the success side we have the pumpkin-spiced Old Fashioned, which does a good job with the comforting spicing and orange notes over a base of Buffalo Trace bourbon. The smoked Jalapeno Margarita is pretty good too, though more heat and less smoke would be good.

Jalapeno poppers.
Jalapeno poppers. Photo: Joe Armao

The PB & J Negroni (yes, you read that right – peanut butter and jelly) is a Frankenstein's monster of a drink that should have been left on the drawing board.

Beer drinkers are well served with good craft tinnies and five beers on tap, including Moon Dog's Cherry Seinfeld sour, while the snack list leans fried and cheesy with the jalapeno poppers (vegan and vegetarian versions available) and smoked blue cheese and chorizo mac and cheese croquettes pointing and laughing at your attempts to diet.

But really, everything else is just timber-lined set dressing against the backdrop of that almighty Caesar. It's the Wood Samaritan's greatest gift.

Martini meter 3.5/5
Not sure what you're doing drinking martinis in a Canadian bar, but the skills here are good so knock yourself out. Entry level is Bombay Sapphire and Dolin Dry with a twist ($18).

Go-to bar snack Jalapeno poppers might hail from the trash side but who doesn't need a little yin with their yang? The black bean, red onion and coriander version is good for vegans and the people who love them ($8.50).