Beer, whisky and blues... what more could anyone want in life? How about authentic Philly Cheese Steaks? No worries. OK, there's more to The Catfish than that, but as a basis for success as a beer bar in inner north Melbourne it works just fine for us.
Named after the classic 40s song Catfish Blues, the bar was opened just before Christmas 2013 by a couple of, you've guessed it, beer, whisky and blues lovin' mates on the Carlton Gardens end of Melbourne's thriving Gertrude Street. Many people will know the location as it was previously home to Gertrude's Brown Couch, a once booming venue that had been meandering along without direction since its original founder moved on. Kieran Yewdall (formerly at the Fitzroy Pinnacle) and Michael Shaughnessy cleaned the place up, applied a fresh lick of paint, ripped out booths, put in new tables and made it welcoming once more.
They did more than that, of course, installing a new eight tap system into the wall behind the main bar downstairs and taking an all craft (and a wee bit of cider) approach both there and on four taps upstairs. The rotating tap beers are supplemented by a lovingly curated lineup of spirits, while the wine list is equally short and lovingly curated.
Some things remain little changed from Gertrude's Brown Couch days, such as the nook and cranny-filled beer garden at the rear and the live music upstairs. Bands and musicians hit the stage several nights a week, usually playing blues, New Orleans jazz and folk, while Mondays are "Formless" evenings of musical improvisation and experimentation. DJs regularly take to the decks in the downstairs bar too, ensuring your earbuds are as sated as your taste buds, which are taken care of by Sparrow's, purveyors of addictive and well-priced Philly Cheese Steaks late into the night from the kitchen.
Add in a pool table and a projector for showing films in the upstairs bar, half a dozen cocktails, a solid whisky and bourbon list, a willingness to put its hand up to act as hub for events such as the Gertrude Street Projection Festival and you can see why it didn't take long for The Catfish to attract a crowd after opening. What's more, the owners have already snaffled an award for being the city's best publicans – no mean feat in a city renowned for its pub culture.
In 2017, The Catfish became the first host venue for Good Beer Week's Good Beer Mates program, hosting brewers from Portland and taking part in a pair of collaborations too: recreating Commons' Urban Farmhouse Ale with all Australian ingredients at 3 Ravens and a take on Breakside's Wanderlust IPA at KAIJU! (see pictures in the slideshow above).
"We just wanted to create a bit of a locals vibe again," they say. "Just a good local, slinging good booze without pretension."