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Grifter groover, Matt King's Top 5 Sydney Pubs

Words by Jordan McDonald

Matt King is a humble hero of the Inner West beer revolution. He's a creative soul with springloaded curls exploding out from under his cap, symbolic of the production line of ideas pole-vaulting about his brain. Insuppressible! I had the great pleasure of tasting some of Matt's early prototype beers. Like the pilot episode to what might become a cult program ala Seinfeld, South Park, or, ahem, Bloke's World!! (R.I.P.), it was clear that he had something. There's a class and quality factor to everything he does, and he likes what's uncool, which inadvertently of course makes him totally cool. Matt would conspire with his co-partners on which classical beer styles to attempt – most of which were disastrously out of vogue (hello Hefeweizen) – hone the recipes, hone the vision, and together build what would become a benchmark brewery in one of the world's most exciting beer scenes, Marrickville.

All of this work making, marketing, and manufacturing beer tends to make one crave a beer! Where better to crush that craving than at your favourite pub? We assumed he'd know a few good ones, turns out he has a close affinity with pubs, a passion for them even. Have we set the scene enough here? Is the suspense utterly unbearable? Without further waxing, here are Matt King's Top 5 Sydney Pubs.

Matt King, via PerthNow.

Firstly, I’d like to go on the record that these are in no particular order! Naming my 5 favourite pubs is like choosing a favourite child, but since it’s a ‘top 5’ list, the show must go on, and I've chosen some places that I have a real soft spot for.

I love the timeless connection we all have with our favourite locals – and the romanticism of it all has grown while we’ve all been locked down.*

I take great inspiration from public bars that I’ve visited both near and far, and I hope to tick off a bunch more on my ‘pub bucket list’ very soon. Lookin’ forward to that first sip at one (or all) of these fine establishments ASAP!

Cricketers Arms Hotel – Surry Hills NSW

Probably the most obvious one for me… the Crix. It’s been such a social hub for me (and my family) for as long as I’ve lived in Sydney, which is going on 13 years now. Sitting on the other side of the bar, shooting a game of stick, playing records on a Friday night, or talking shit in the beer garden.

"It’s the place where everyone knows your name – which is both good & bad, but it’s been central to my social life in Sydney and I love this pub dearly!"

Shakespeare Hotel – Surry Hills NSW
The Shakespeare Hotel, Surry Hills, Sydney, 1949. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

Much like the Crix, “The Shakey” goes hand in hand with the cream of the Sydney pub culture. It fed me for a long time with its $10 pub meals (still remember the controversial $2.50 price hike like it was yesterday). Incredible front bar vibes but standing out the front on a sunny afternoon with a cold one is pretty much the ultimate. Long live this place, and please don’t ever, ever change.

Clovelly Bowls Club – Clovelly NSW
Clovelly Bowling Club, via TimeOut.

I moved east during the first Sydney lockdown, and the Clovelly Bowlo is my new local. One of the only bowls clubs left in Sydney you can enjoy original 1970s prices & whale watch while drinking your schooner anywhere the fuck you want on the premises. Having been so used to rules in this state, whenever I order a beer & go to push the door to head outside, I always expect someone to say “mate, you can’t take your beer out there”. But nope, not here.

"Find a nice green patch or perch up on the cliff, spot the whales & enjoy the immaculate serenity like no other bowls club."

*Shoutout to Marrickville bowlo, still do enjoy a roaring Boeing 747 on a sunny Saturday arvo.

Enmore Hotel – Enmore NSW

Bit of an instant classic to the Inner West. I have so much admiration for what the owner, Ged, did with this pub. Formerly the Sly Fox, his grand plans hit many snags along the way which meant he had to completely refit the place from scratch due to an intense termite issue. I’m sure if he didn’t take this pub over it could have been lost forever. The final product is a clean, classic corner bar with wholesome friendly service. Cop a spot at the bar & enjoy a couple of local ales & a packet of chips.

The Marrickville Hotel – Marrickville NSW
The Marrickville Hotel, 2019. Kimberley Low via Concrete Playground.

Okay, technically not a pub I know, but I had to include it in the list. Marrickville was crying out for a place like this, and it’s building a good amount of ‘lived in’ and will only get better for years to come. A good mix of pub vibes & just an all round, brilliant neighbourhood bar.

Honourable mentions near & far – Glengarry Castle in Redfern, Labour in Vain in Fitzroy, Goldys Tavern (incredible orange bar & pool table in the front bar), The Monarch Hotel Moruya & Air Raid Tavern also in Moruya, Henson Park Hotel, The Eltham Hotel in Eltham NSW, Wombarra Bowlo, Marrickville Bowlo (again), Sydney Park Hotel, Lord Wolseley Hotel - hot tip, buy a schooner and find yourself a nice spot in the park next door…. I could go on and on… Whatever takes your fancy, enjoy one off the wood at your favourites this summer!

*Editor's Note: Matt penned this list at the tail end of Sydney's 120 day lockdown in 2021.

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