So for whatever reason, you've found yourself in the Western Suburbs. And not just the Western Suburbs, but the Stirling Highway corridor that fans out into Perth's bougiest enclaves. Stuck between the two more approachable nightlife hubs of Perth/Northbridge and Fremantle, the question echoes in your skull: where are you gonna get a drink?
I've spent much of the last week in the GT after dark, sipping overpriced lager so you don't have to. Until you do.
CAPTAIN STIRLING HOTEL
I remember a time - a distant, hazy time - when the Captain Stirling sounded like an appealing destination. Since the ALH (Woolworths) takeover, I’ve watched its soul drain out, slowly and desperately like the last foamy trickles of a Swan Draught keg.
The pool tables are warped, scuffed and sloping. The music is grim Top 40 piped tepidly from the ceiling, the lights are bright and cold-hued. Patrons always seem kinda sad and vacant… “The calibre of punter leaves a lot to be desired.” The staff are nice enough, but visibly aren’t able to pretend they’re not working in a stinky, sinking ship. Now, the diveyness wouldn’t matter so much if the prices were in keeping. But pints and food remain expensive, and Cap S’ promoters seem married to the myth that it’s a vaguely swanky, attractive place. No no no. At least they have a decent pinball machine, if I recall correctly (AC/DC maybe?)
Varsity gets points for at least providing what it promises: a pastiche of the quintessential American college tavern. Stars and stripes on the walls, burgers and buffalo wings, dank couches and arcade games. Big Buck HD is particularly impressive - those graphics! (meanwhile still as sexist and animal-murderous as the original). The pool tables are not great but they’re serviceable and have the traditional down-lighting. Standard drink prices are as exorbitant as any other Golden Triangle hooch vendor (I paid $12 for a deeply boring pint the other day) but the specials are decent (went back a couple days later for $5 PBR. Still boring, but cheap). The clientele? Mostly uni students, though recently we met a truly amazing older gentleman who liked to wear sunglasses indoors and croon the rhythm and blues classic ‘Unchain My Heart.’
This Subiaco joint has some legitimate class, although it’s well aware of it. Attracts an older crowd who wear nice linen clothing, and architects, or both.
Having never been there until the other night I figured the drinks list would be substantial, but it was pretty pissweak - and $14 for a meagre glass of Cab Sav. Regarding the cab sav my compatriot said it was “a decent drop of CABBY SAV. Bit nutty. I have better wines at home. But I’d drink that wine again.”
The decor is good, the ambience is OK albeit a bit stiff. The bartenders are handsome although they’re well aware of it.
The UWA tavern is so weird. It doesn’t really feel like a tavern. It feels like a fake tavern, a TV set of a tavern, all the things a tavern should have set in place but without any regard for it ever being used as such. I can’t explain it. The ceiling is so high up and everything feels far away. The ambience is generally shit, but in a good way, like how in any unpretentious crummy establishment you’re never going to have to impress anyone. Good chips. Great staff. Cheap jugs of the beeriest beer you ever quaffed. Pool tables (can’t remember what nick they’re in but they exist). You can’t really go wrong.
RODNEY’S BAIT AND TACKLE
Rodney’s is the new kid on the block, propelled into the sphere of local awareness through its gimmickry. The bar is a boat, the whole place is decked out in nautical paraphernalia, and they do actually sell bait and tackle if you want it. They’ve done a pretty solid job with the theme really, the drinks selection is good, and it’s opposite the Mozzy Park train station so the location is not quite as annoying as you might expect. Ultimately though the combination of “funky new bar” and “secluded Golden Triangle location” means the clientele is mostly groovy DILFs wearing hats and so on. Ah well. Four stars from me: they’re giving it a red hot go, booking live local music, and DJ Boogie was doing a bang-up job the other night with the soul ‘45s.
Like the Cap S, this place was once great, but a refurb or two later it has both the sterility and charm of a Changi Airport restroom. Couldn’t even bring myself to have a drink here. Good proximity to the foreshore and local skate park though. You're actually better off going to Little Way a few doors up, but I forgot to write a review of that. Steve's: One star.
Alright, enough beating about the bush. It’s gotta be The Albion. This age-old (since 1890) institution combines the best and worst of Western Suburbs pubs, but good triumphs over evil. Ossifying seedy barflies, too much lighting, slightly obnoxious quantity of TVs. Good pinball (Metallica, formerly KISS), Big Buck Safari, decent classic rock playlists, expensive pub meals. Ten fireplaces, $5 schooners, Saturday Night Karaoke. Two crucial boons get it over the line: good pool tables (the only ones on this list with the classic green felt), and the place has an actual train inside it. Don’t waste your time with the competition: halfway along Stirling Highway is the crusty-chic watering hole you seek.