Known colloquially as the ‘Marly Bar’, the public bar at the Hotel Marlborough on the corner of Missenden Road and King Street is in an area I visit often. Appointments with several doctors at the RPA Medical Centre in Missenden Road, at Connect Hearing Audiology nearby and the Ray White Real Estate office bring me to the precinct. A late morning or afternoon drink often seems appropriate.
I sometimes meet Patrick Gallagher, my publisher at Allen & Unwin, there for a drink where, following a revamp, there is a touch of class. When I’m on my own, it’s quiet, has a barmaid who calls me ‘Darling’ – an old-fashioned touch I like – and it provides a comfortable place to sit with my Kindle.
Crossing King Street at the lights and going a block south is the Newtown Hotel. It’s the closest drinking spot to where I live, which has its own appeal when I’m feeling lazy. Closed for more than a year and having undergone extensive renovation, the Newtown used to be a dark, Goth, gay, Emo hangout I avoided. It’s better lit and more diverse in clientele now and I like to sit and watch the incredible variety of people trooping along King Street.
Further down and across the street is the Cooper’s. When I lived in Hordern Street (the pub is on the corner of Hordern and King Streets), it used to be almost my local. This was a few years back when it was rougher, before its renovation which has transformed it into a people’s pub downstairs and a bijou, bistro-like upstairs area, partially open-air.
It’s still an early opener, which can be beneficial. In the past I used to run into Newtown identities there like the Whitlams’ frontman Tim Freedman and ‘Bob the Anarchist’, who is a fund of stories. Now, I’m more apt to have lunch upstairs with my friend Michael Wilding – they do a great fish and chips with a complimentary glass of wine.
The Cooper’s has the only TAB I’m aware of in the area so I’m there religiously on Melbourne Cup Day. That bet and my support for the Essendon Football Club are my last connections with what, in the days of Bolte and Rylah, Gough Whitlam called ‘the city of dreadful knights’. You had to be familiar with 19th-century British poets to get the joke.
The last port of call is Kelly’s, several blocks further south. It’s just across from the post office (or shop as we’re now advised to call it) where I do a lot of business, and it calls to me for several reasons. One is that it’s always quiet through the day. No doubt it’s thronged at night but I enjoy walking up the ramp past areas reminiscent of the snugs in English pubs and ordering a drink without music blaring and amid only muted conversation.
I take my drink back into the snug and toast the photos of old Newtown on the walls. I once set a scene in a Cliff Hardy novel here; it was a perfect place for Hardy to sit quietly and closely watch every move of the person he was there to meet.
I can’t recall ever having more than one or two drinks in these places. They don’t anticipate big dosh when I walk in. But I always drop some change into the red-tinted water in the tips glasses and hope that heart-warming feature never goes out of style in this soulless age.