Australian theme bars
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 25 Sep 97 17:15:02 -0700
Subject: Australian theme bars
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Excerpted-from: The Telegraph, London
Food and Drink: A real larynx-wobbler
Brace yourself for the next theme-bar wave -- stuffed wombats and
flavourless beer. But it's not proper Aussie drinking, says Richard Neill.
THEME bars come in waves. We've had the celebrity wave (Planet Hollywood),
the sports wave (Babe Ruth's, Football Football), and more recently the
all-saturating riddly-diddly Oirish wave. Now, just when you thought your
local boozer was safe, it's time to brace yourself, Sheila -- the Aussie
theme bar is coming to a street near you.
Like the Irish flood that preceded it, you can bet this latest deluge will
scar the urban landscape with naff interiors and flavourless beer. More
important, it is sure to deliver a warped vision of Australian life -- Down
Under seen through kitsch-tinted spectacles. As I found out last week, the
reality is very different, and infinitely more frightening. Real Aussies go
Every Sunday morning more than 1,000 Antipodeans get out of bed (if they
managed to find one the night before), slip on some shorts (if they bothered
taking them off the night before) and head towards a warehouse in north
London. Their destination is an unadvertised event called the Church, their
goal is to convert a mountain of full beer cans into a carpet of crumpled
aluminium in just over three hours.
"My mum would be proud. I've rushed back from Spain to get to Church. I'm
religious about drinking," says Scottish traveller Ricky Dwyer, one of the
few Brits queuing to head indoors on a beautiful sunny day. "I've been to
that new Walkabout Inn, and the atmosphere is just not the same." Fifty
yards back, three women are standing with their rucksacks on their back.
"We've just got off the train, and didn't want to miss it," says Prue Taylor
from Albury, Australia. "This is my sister's first time -- she's a Church
That makes two of us, and I decide to find out what the initiation involves.
"We stick to the same running order each week," says head security man
Herman, who, in eight years as a Church Warden, has rarely needed to flex
his 36DD pecs in aggression. "1pm Unfurl the flags of Australia, New Zealand
and South Africa (old and new versions). 1.30pm Filthy comedian comes on.
2pm Stripper. 2.30pm Drinking Games. 3.30pm everybody out." Unfortunately,
I had missed last week's star attraction, Mr. Methane, a man with a
flatulent approach to theme tunes.
So, having traded in some beer vouchers (available only in multiples of
three cans) and found a clear patch of sawdust, I knock back a VB (that's
Victoria Bitter to the uninitiated) and make a brave but futile attempt not
to look like a pale-legged pommy wimp. I sing Two Little Boys with the gusto
of someone about to go into battle, dance with strangers around bin liners
filled with ice and beer, and sweat buckets into the muggy, hormone-heavy
air. It feels like one of those shows they used to put on for soldiers
serving in Vietnam, except here the grunts are hardened travellers and the
tour of duty is a one-year travel visa.
"I can't understand why the breweries haven't tapped into this market
before," says Sean Sullivan, the British founder and organiser of the
Church. Since its informal inception in Fulham's Red Lion pub in 1979, the
unadvertised weekly event has moved six times, yet the following is as loyal
as ever. "What makes this crowd so good is that your average Aussie or Kiwi
will spend three times as much per head on booze, but will cause only a
third of the aggro."
The breweries have finally got the message, and with the Sydney Olympics as
their target, the marketing men are aiming for theme-bar saturation by the
year 2000. Three years ago, Scottish and Newcastle launched Cafe Oz in Paris
in an attempt to launch Fosters into a wine-drinking stronghold and "get
the Parisians to let their hair down a bit", says brand director Jeremy
Blood. Le tinny et tucker formula proved so popular that further branches
were opened in Lille and Paris.
"The theme is a winner. Australia has all the same attributes of California
without any of the Californian hang-ups," argues Blood, who will be opening
another six Bar Oz outlets in Britain this year.
Add that to Regent Inns' extending family of Walkabout Inns, the Greenalls
chain of Roo Bars (parachuting sheep included), and Bass Taverns' new cross
between a Kiwi theme bar and an adventure travel agent, and you have a
situation where Qantas won't need to advertise for years.
Good for Australian tourism but what about for British drinkers? If the new
Walkabout Inn at Shepherd's Bush is a fair benchmark the outlook isn't good.
I queued with about 800 others last Friday night, only to get crushed into
what is essentially a giant TV room decorated with faux-Aboriginal art and
stuffed wombats. A glance at the menu and drinks list indicates they have
no intention of representing the true flavours of Down Under. Australia does
have decent beers and innovative chefs (Pacific Fusion was raised if not
born down there), but you won't find either of them here. Nor, judging by
my random accent count, will you find too many Antipodeans.
Back at the Church, Sullivan is similarly nonplussed. "Those places are too
twee," he argues. "With the Church, you have to walk down a disgusting
alleyway behind a grotty railway yard to get into an old warehouse -- that's
what the Aussies and Kiwis like."
By 3pm the scene is one of carnage. All around me, couples are tasting each
other's beer (without swapping cans), while the stragglers slur along to "I
come from a land Down Under". I bump into a distressed-looking man holding
his head in his hands. "Look at them all," he moans, "they're an
embarrassment to Australia." I wasn't sure whether he was referring to the
Australians or the places they drink in.
GREAT AUSSIE BEER
Bit of a problem here. In a sea of lager, there is only one Australian ale
worth mentioning and that is Cooper's Ale. These bottle-conditioned beers
have cult status around the world, and are imported in small quantities into
Cooper's Sparkling Ale -- A cloudy beer that throws a big sediment. Packed
with fruity flavours with a lovely peppery kick from the hops.
Cooper's Stout -- A dark beer made using roasted malt. Tastes like bitter
chocolate and coffee, and at just under 7 per cent alcohol, is not a
Both cost pounds 1.55 a bottle at the Beer Shop, 14b Pitfield Street, London
N1 6EY (0171 739 3701).
1997 (c) The Telegraph plc, London
© 1997 Peter Langston