A Great Australian Pub column on the Canberra Club in the ACT
Great Australian Pubs
You know the type: great service, nice rooms, incredible food, yesteryear prices – the kind of place where you can spend the night, leave the next day and say: THAT . . . was a Great Australian Pub.
Can you spare a dollar?
It buys a month of temporary membership at the Canberra Club if you don’t live in the nation’s capital, enabling one visit or many. I wore a suit the first time – but only the first time. The club looked decidely posh when I spotted it on an amble through Civic, the capital’s downtown area: the sort of place where you tip-toe in to be told in a whisper that there’s a 20-year waiting list. But, in a city with few classic pubs but many trendy bars, I was desperate.
First signs weren’t promising: brass plaque, heavy wooden doors, expensive-looking building, grand lobby, plush carpet and sweeping staircase. Portraits of sundry bigwigs glowered.
Don’t be fooled. This great bargain may be a club, but it’s Canberra’s best pub, too. At the front desk I revealed I was from out of town. A friendly woman supplied temporary membership, waving me upstairs. Until recently, temporary membership was free. Now ACT legal requirements mandate fees – but they’re so nominal I regard the club as my local whenever I’m in Canberra.
A large, curved bar dominates the main area. Pokies are to one side. A comfy lounge area has well-spaced couches, armchairs and tables.
Best counter meal
While the Canberra Club Restaurant is an unstuffy a la carte venue for steaks, seafood, pasta and none-too-fancy fare (mains around $15-$20), regulars swear by counter-meal fare from a bistro off the bar, with roasts, pastas, fish and chips – and a daily special ($5 or $7).
Live music on Thursday evenings is often mainstream jazz but sometimes includes Latin, swing and soul. Fridays feature cheap cocktails ($6).
Point of difference
Temporary members pay $8.50 to dive into the second-floor pool or work out in the gym. A library behind the bar has current newspapers from state capitals and up-to-date magazines – plus a bonus of free broadband access to check e-mail.
Level of menace
Zero – they can’t remember fisticuffs. Occasionally, they pour inbibers into taxis. The club doesn’t get overcrowded. Regulars of both sexes are evenly spread across age groups: old gents who remember Menzies; young women from government offices; couples en route to dinner.
You can’t sleep here, mate. But there’s plenty of good value lodgings very close by on Northbourne Ave and elsewhere.
Super-friendly women at the desk and food outlets work with older blokes behind the bar who know their drinks and call members by name. If a cab stand on the corner is deserted, they’ll phone and page you when your cab arrives. (Doors close 11 pm, midnight Fri-Sat.)
Down-to-earth pub prices – from $2.40 for a schooner of light beer and $2 for house wine (with several pricier wines by the glass). Tooheys New and VB are most popular pours.
(02) 6248 9000 or www.canberraclub.com.au
45 West Row, Canberra