When rumours surfaced in the latter part of 2015 that someone had bought the Duke of Gloucester in Randwick and planned to turn it into a specialist beer pub with 50 taps, some of the reaction in the local beer scene went along the lines of: “50 taps? Randwick? Are you serious!?!”
Despite a few raised eyebrows, it turned out that the owners – who operate under the group name of The Good Beer Company – were very serious and they have prior form turning these sorts of bold ventures in their favour. Their first pub, the old Clarendon Hotel in Surry Hills, was solid if not spectacular when they first got the keys but after they’d changed its name to the Dove & Olive, started running local beer through the 20-plus beer lines and added well made and well priced food, it was awarded the title of Sydney’s best pub by TimeOut. By then the group had already purchased the nearby KB Hotel, renovated and renamed it the Keg & Brew. That pub now boasts 33 taps – a number some also suggested was too many for a venue of its size – and, like the Dove & Olive, bustles every day of the week. Still, if the two Surry Hills pubs have been The Good Beer Company’s equivalent of successful Apollo test flights, The Dog Hotel is their moon shot, taking them into territory few publicans in Australia have dared venture as far as beer is concerned.
Their approach for getting the new Dog flying isn't too dissimilar to the formula they used at the other venues, simply using the bones of the existing business to build something better and bring more people in. And it starts at the bar with all those taps.
There are 59 in all, the vast majority of which pour something made by an independent Australian brewer, from Feral to Frenchies, Little Brewing to La Siréne, Merchant to Mismatch. Reflecting the growth of the city’s brewery scene, Sydney brewers are particularly well represented. As you might expect, the styles on offer cover a broad range. To offer a general rule of thumb, the balance is dictated primarily by a combination of the pub’s largely-new-to-beer clientele and the weather, so expect plenty of approachable options in the warmer months while cooler weather is likely to usher in a darker change to the range. That said, with so many beers on offer you won’t be short a Belgian chocolate ale, raspberry Berliner weisse, spiced saison or hand pumped brown ale when you need one.
The Dog is undoubtedly a craft beer pub, though not exclusively. They still have a traditional public bar with TAB and a font of mainstream beers, but those have been reduced to a fraction of the size they once were. Because of that, the rest of the front bar now offers more appeal to the newcomer walking in off the street; less fluorescent lighting and TV screens, more charm and comfort.
The way food is offered has changed too. Bizarrely, in its former guise you weren’t allowed to eat downstairs. Now you can eat anywhere, upstairs or down, inside or out. The energy-sapping indoor grill-your-own BBQ has been switched off and the kitchen now serves up the kind of American pub grub that’s proven so popular at its sister Surry Hills venues. In keeping with the general theme, the dedicated first floor dining area is immense, with options from sunny terrace seating to comfy couches. Almost needless to say, the floor has its own ten tap beer system pouring a completely different set of beers to that which you’ll find in the main bar downstairs. Up here they’ve also commissioned a set of long tables which, once in place, will create a communal dining area big enough to cater for the most generously sized functions. Out in the courtyard they’ve put plenty of effort into creating a bright and colourful outdoor area that nicely channels the Eastern suburbs’ relaxed beachy vibe, with its own cocktail bar with five tap beer system.
If it seems like there’s a lot going on here, there is and there needs to be. The Dog Hotel is no pokey corner pub; it’s a massive, sprawling beast with capacity for around 800 people. In taking on this venue, the new owners have had to spruce up just about everything so have gone the extra mile to make sure every bit of available space has been filled with the kinds of things pub-goers want these days, whether it be a comfortable booth with free wifi, a shady spot on a sunny day, good quality and affordable food or a cheap tinnie of craft beer.
It’s hard for a venue to be all things to all people, but it’s hard to see why anyone wouldn’t like The Dog Hotel. Unless you’re the cellarman whose job it is to change all those kegs.