A character-packed boozer is as Australian as a blue heeler or a Bunnings sausage sando. But even the most beloved trad pub needs a bit of spit and polish to give those tired carpets and sagging floorboards some sparkle. Enter top-name chefs, rooftop bars and considered drinks lists that celebrate the small-scale, the independent and the local. Here’s where to go to sink a cold one.
Image credit: Cricketers Arms Hotel
Cricketers Arms Hotel, Surry Hills, NSW1/8
“Let’s go to the Cricketers” has been a rallying cry of beer-loving, trivia-happy Sydneysiders for decades. Now this beloved inner-city venue has gone a little bit fancy – upstairs at least – with the addition of Chez Crix, a French-accented bistro serving up confit duck, flounder grenobloise and Sunday roasts.
Eltham Hotel, Eltham, NSW2/8
A jumble of mismatched floral plates, op-shop finds and a rotation of local live music characterises this charming revamped pub, about 30 minutes inland from Byron Bay. Former Saint Peter head chef Alanna Sapwell-Stone is newly installed on the pans, creating what she calls Women’s Weekly-style cooking with a twist: elevated quiches, sausage rolls and a strawberry gum roly-poly.
Image credit: Central Club Hotel
Central Club Hotel, North Melbourne, Victoria3/8
A staunchly all-Australian drinks list is the jewel of this 155-year-old stunner, which reopened with a new, graceful look in 2023. The wines are particularly interesting and lean new wave, while the kitchen serves all the classics: schnittys, burgers and steaks. The charcuterie deserves a look, too, with free-range salami made in Lismore, NSW, and Wagyu bresaola from Victoria’s Otway Ranges.
Image credit: The Scenic Hotel
The Scenic Hotel, Norton Summit, SA4/8
The Scenic’s fairytale grounds – all twinkling lights, mature conifers and elms – make it one of the prettiest beer gardens around. And with its new head chef, Jordan Latour (formerly of Tasmania’s Fico and Tom McHugo’s), the menu at this Adelaide Hills beauty is equally special. Expect the likes of house pork terrine with mustard, Port Lincoln mussels with preserved chilli and kangaroo loin schnitzel in pepper sauce.
Image credit: The Wickham
The Wickham, Fortitude Valley, Qld5/8
This proudly LGBTQIA+-friendly Brisbane favourite has just emerged from a $3 million facelift and the old girl is looking grand. There’s a ’70s disco theme to the fit-out: riotous wallpaper, feathered light fittings and even a Jennifer Coolidge print. Tacos and pizzas lead the food offering and there’s a dedicated “pup menu” for four-legged guests.
Image credit: Telegraph Hotel
Telegraph Hotel, Hobart, Tasmania6/8
Unlike many pub restorations that are the handiwork of sleek hospitality groups, this hotel has been in the same family’s hands for more than 30 years and it’s that family – brothers Stephen and Brendan Bourke – who have spearheaded its revamp. It now has a sleek rooftop bar (with igloo dining in winter), a wine and beer list that celebrates Tassie drops and pub classics made with stellar local produce such as Cape Grim beef and Norfolk Bay oysters.
Image credit: The Claremont Hotel
The Claremont Hotel, Claremont, WA7/8
Big-name sommelier Matt Skinner leads the revitalised wine list at this historic Perth pub that reopened this year following a staggering $12-million makeover. Choose from a range of producers from as nearby as Margaret River and as far afield as Burgundy or Beaujolais, and share a seafood platter that includes Shark Bay prawns and Albany oysters. It’s an enjoyable way to spend a weekend arvo.