Like your golden ales with a bit of greenery? Then you know a great watering hole offers more than sunshine and plastic chairs. And to be one of the country’s best? We’re talking ornamental ponds, sweeping views and schnitties as big as your head. By Chris Ryan.
The Oaks Hotel, Neutral Bay
This Sydney pub is famous for two things: the first is the grand oak tree at the centre of its beer garden. Planted as a seedling in 1938, its stretching branches and broad leaves shade drinkers through the heat of summer. At night, webbed with fairy lights, it lends a magical air to the garden.
The second thing – and there is nothing romantic about it – is the steak: bloody juicy big steaks. There’s Scotch fillet, eye fillet and T-bone, to name a few. If you’ve got a huge appetite and time to spare, try tackling the stomach-straining Tomahawk Steak – it tips the scales at over 1.6 kilos.
Hotel Brunswick, Brunswick Heads
The good times flow every Sunday at this North Coast pub overlooking the meandering Brunswick River. Punters travel from the nearby hinterland and coastal towns to cram into the courtyard for live music that plays into the evening and stave off thoughts of tomorrow’s workday with drink and dance.
During the week you’ll find it easier to nab a table beneath the poincianas with their striking flame-red flowers. And if it’s not quite the riot that a Sunday session can be, at least you’ll have enough space to stick a fork in your schnitzel without stabbing a stranger.￼
Endeavour Tavern, Lancelin
It’s only a 90-minute drive north of Perth but the sparsely developed stretch of coastline around Lancelin – where thrillseekers sandboard down blindingly white dunes – induces instant relaxation. Step into the beer garden, with its 25 picnic tables, and look across the vast Indian Ocean. You’ll feel zen before a drink has even touched your lips.
If you have kids with you, you’ll feel even more at ease. “It’s really family friendly,” promises owner John McKeating. “There’s a grassed area that runs down towards the beach and the kids can throw a Frisbee or kick a footy there – it’s just marvellous.”
Matso’s Broome Brewery, Broome
Matso’s has been something of a Broome institution since it was established in 1997. The building itself has had many incarnations – it’s been moved three times and served as a bank then a general store before becoming a brewery.
You might want a Mango Beer or the Angry Ranga (an alcoholic ginger beer with a chilli hit). Maybe it’s the heat but when you’re sitting outside beneath the shade cloth, looking out over Roebuck Bay, neither option seems odd. Especially when you can pair the spicy beers with authentic Indian fare from the beer garden’s Curry Hut.
The Triffid, Newstead
When former Powderfinger bassist John “JC” Collins decided to turn a World War II hangar into a music venue, there was little doubt it would be a hit. But the beer garden is a revelation; a lush green space in a dull-grey industrial landscape, it’s helped bring new life to the inner-city Brisbane suburb.
John wanted to create a venue where people would feel at ease hanging out, whatever their age. With mellow music curated to suit the ever-changing crowd – and not a pokie or TV screen in sight – he’s done just that. The only shame is that when The Triffid closes, you have to leave.
Grand View Hotel, Bowen
Flattened by cyclones and gutted by fires, the Grand View Hotel has seen some drama in its time. It’s also featured in one, scoring the role of The Territory Hotel in Baz Luhrmann’s 2008 film, Australia.
While it was the exterior of the classic Queenslander that caught Baz’s eye, it’s the fresh seafood and refurbished interior that will impress first-time visitors. Douglas fir timber, salvaged from an abandoned yacht, was used throughout the reno and the mast has been raised in the beer garden. If it looks like it’s swaying, start drinking mid-strengths.
The Birdsville Hotel, Birdsville
“Beer garden” probably isn’t the best way to describe The Birdsville Hotel’s pebble-strewn outdoor area – it’s closer to a Japanese rock garden. On the edge of the Simpson Desert, with water scarce, the only green you’ll see is cans of Victoria Bitter.
There are no frills at this quintessential outback pub and that’s part of the appeal. Sport plays on the big screen in the outdoor area but the real entertainment comes from travellers and locals who share yarns around the fire pit. And when the conversation dies down with the fire, look up and you’ll see a darkened sky blanketed with stars – a view no city pub can match.
The Bridgewater Inn, Bridgewater
This Adelaide Hills watering hole has an idyllic beer garden set over two levels. On top, there’s a deck shaded by a grapevine – a practical and charming setting for casual catch-ups. The bottom garden is by the banks of Cox Creek, a great spot for the kids to play on a hot day.
Schnitzel fans won’t want to pass up the 400-gram beef schnitzel. If that’s not enough protein, add the meat-lovers’ sauce with bacon, chorizo and pepperoni. There’s a 64-bottle wine list so, believe it or not, there is probably a drink to pair it with.
Victory Hotel, Sellicks Hill
You’d do well to end a day of McLaren Vale wine-tasting on the lawns of the Victory Hotel, where you can look across the vineyards to Gulf St Vincent. After Doug Govan bought the pub in 1989, he found two cellars filled with bluestone rubble. He stocked them with local wines and built a fence with the stone.
Doug recommends taking a seat by that fence as the sun sinks into the ocean. And he has the meal to match the view: “The perfect combination would be a glass of Coriole picpoul, a white variety, with King George whiting and salt-and-pepper squid.” ￼
The Wandi Pub, Wandiligong
Set in Victoria’s beautiful High Country, The Wandi Pub is a much-loved drinking hole but in the past it was mostly locals who visited. That changed in 2015 when mates Tim Heuchan and Paddy Subacius took over.
The two have revitalised the pub, which now serves craft beers from around Victoria, offers a smart menu with a touch of Japanese flare and hosts modern-folk gigs in the beer garden. But Paddy says the real secret to his thriving bar has been not changing it too much. “We wanted to keep the feel of a traditional pub,” he says. “We want everybody who comes in to be comfortable.”
The Great Northern Hotel, Carlton North
This Melbourne pub is the kind that makes you want to move into the neighbourhood so you can call it your local. The specials – including $14 Parma Night, $14 Steak Night and $15 Burger Night – will keep you out of the kitchen, while 21 taps pouring an ever-changing range of craft ales will keep you out of the bottle-oh.
The beer garden is a magnet for sports-lovers, with hundreds turning up to scream at their team, the opposition and the umpire, as the players run around on the massive projector screens. Dogs are more than welcome in the beer garden but they should be left at home on game day – otherwise they’ll lose respect for their owners.
Goldmines Hotel, Bendigo
If you prefer a more genteel drinking session, Goldmines Hotel is for you. The gardens echo the Victorian style of the heritage-listed pub that dates back to 1857. We’re talking ornamental ponds and wrought-iron benches (not plastic chairs from Bunnings).
Sip a gin and tonic made with Australian craft gin as you stroll the extensive grounds or savour an IPA craft brew while sitting in the shade and leafing through a serious novel. Alternatively, you could visit on a Sunday afternoon when musos perform in the beer garden and the scene is a bit looser. Order the double-bacon triple-cheese burger and just try to wrap your laughing gear around it – it’s a monster.
Monte’s Lounge, Alice Springs
For a town where it’s always drinking weather, Alice Springs isn’t endowed with the greatest beer gardens. That might be because the locals have the sense to lay low when the temperature rises. One place that bucks the trend is Monte’s Lounge, which bills itself as “a travelling circus in the middle of Australia”. The unicorn statue, giant toy soldier and rainbow-coloured picnic tables are signs that this place doesn’t take itself too seriously. Sate your thirst with a Stone & Wood Pacific Ale or two and get swept up in the frivolity.
Mint Garden Bar, Braddon
Built in the 1920s as a hostel for Canberra’s low-paid government workers, the heritage-listed Gorman House has been adapted for arts purposes – or in the case of Mint Garden Bar, party purposes. A temporary outdoor bar, Mint opens each year when the weather is warm enough, usually from November to May. “It’s a beautiful, tranquil setting,” says bar manager Nathan “AJ” Allen-Jones. “It’s a three-minute walk from the CBD but you feel like you’re miles away.” Friday nights are the busiest but service is swift, thanks to four on-tap cocktails, including a mojito garnished with mint from the garden.
Cascade Brewery, South Hobart
Whether you’re a history-lover, a beer-lover or a beer-history lover, there’s nothing quite like having a drink in Cascade Brewery’s historic gardens. You don’t have to do a tour of the brewery, built in 1824, to wander the manicured lawns, pass through the carefully trimmed hedges and toss pebbles into the ornate fountains.
Grab some food from the restaurant then find a spot for a picnic. Go for the cheese plate with matching beers or try pairing the Moroccan-spiced squid with a pale ale or the stout ice-cream with a glass of stout.
￼SEE ALSO: Say Cheers to Australia’s Best Bars and Pubs