For many years there wasn't much to distinguish The Union Hotel from most of the other typical Aussie pubs lining Newtown's famous King Street; big, old, a little worn and with the same beer selection as every other place. These days though, it's a very different story.
A family-owned business for just over 30 years, The Union is now under the stewardship of a third generation who have overseen a dramatic resurgence in the pub's fortunes, much of it to do with the beer they now serve. Gone are the household lager brands of yesteryear, having been replaced with some of the finest craft beer this country has to offer. With around 20 taps and a couple of hand pumps in the front bar matched with a similar number in Big Artie's back bar, they churn through plenty of new beers each week and it's no exaggeration to suggest that The Union consistently pours one of the best selections of Aussie draught beer in Sydney.
The change towards craft means a growing number of beer lovers are now making the pilgrimage to Newtown from suburbs well outside the expected catchment area. There they join some of The Union's real success stories; the old regular patrons who have ditched the corporate brands and are now more likely to be proclaiming allegiance to a newly-discovered microbrewery. And that's been an important part of the venue's transformation; changing a fundamental part of what they did without losing the original charm of the venue or alienating their loyal local customers.
Newtown itself is an eclectic suburb; a melting pot of people from all walks of life which somehow retains a strong collective interest in the local community. The Union is a place they can all come to mingle freely. It's the sort of bar where you'll catch a bluegrass band playing to flannel-shirted hipsters while black-clad heavy metal fans gather at the neighbouring booth. On the other side of the room you might see tradesmen, still clad in hi-vis, shooting pool a man in shorts and thongs hugs an IPA while watching a game of footy. Meanwhile, a group of university students might be catching some sun out in the beer garden while a group of fifty-somethings dine in the fully renovated restaurant that has altered its traditional pub menu to be something that encourages social dining. The Union is a pub that has everything, and that makes it a pub for everyone.
It's difficult to define when a place has officially become a destination or an institution, but it's safe to say that if The Union isn't yet either of those, it soon will be. Regardless of that, The Union Hotel remains a wonderful example of what any good old-fashioned Aussie pub could aspire to; simple things, done well.