In Kensington, pubs are an endangered species. Considering the suburb sits a mere four kilometres from Melbourne’s CBD, it’s a shortage that’s something of an oddity.
The similarly placed 'burbs of Richmond, South Melbourne, Footscray and Carlton once had them in droves and, though many have disappeared over the years, a reasonable number remain. Yet, with both Bonehead Brewing and Henry St Brewhouse residing within the 3031 postcode, Kensington currently has twice as many breweries as pubs.
Yes, you read that right: Kensington has just the one pub. But, as luck would have it, Hardimans Hotel is rather impressive.
Built during the 1870s by the ocean-loving Hardiman family, the building was designed in part to resemble a ship and the nautical theme lends the pub a slightly art deco look and creates quite the space in which to enjoy a beer.
Hardimans’ long history as the sole watering hole in the suburb means that, for many in the area, the pub holds a special place in their hearts. Thus, when the long-term owners looked to move on midway through 2017, it’s easy to understand the sense of consternation felt by many locals. Just how tall would the apartments that would rise in its place be?
Such fears were soon put to rest, however, as the pub’s new owner, Michael Thiele, had rather different plans for Hardimans. What’s more, he knows a thing or two about Melbourne’s hospitality scene, having co-founded the Open Door Pub Co, which sold its entire portfolio of 17 venues to Dixon Hospitality in 2015.
When Hardimans Hotel reopened in September 2018, in many ways the place was born anew. The pub’s art deco essence was fully embraced and its curved exterior was matched by a bright, airy and expansive bar on the inside.
The building’s large windows ensure the space is filled with natural light throughout the day while the view down Macauley Road makes for an impressive vista of the surrounding suburb; it almost recreates the feeling of standing atop a ship’s bow too.
The nautical theme spreads to the beer garden where there’s a beachside feel, thanks to the exposed brick, benches, tiles and eucalyptus trees; you could be forgiven for thinking you’re a short stroll from the beach rather than north of Melbourne’s CBD.
And, while the above makes for a wonderful story for Kensington locals, it doesn’t automatically make for the kind of place craft beer fans should walk into. Many millions have been spent refurbishing pubs over the years only for the tap lineup to be barely indistinguishable from what was there before. Fortunately, what you’ll find pouring from the 20 taps here offers plenty of choice.
The lack of contracts has allowed the team there to fashion a beer list that regularly changes and tends to cover the full gamut of beer styles now readily available across Australia. There’s a gentle lean towards the local, meaning Bonehead Brewing and the breweries of the nearby west feature heavily but, beyond that, beers from across Australia – and other parts of the world too – all frequent Hardimans’ taps, including a few bigger brand names to ensure all-comers are catered for.
Augmenting those beers is one of the most extensive spirits lists you’re likely to find in any pub as well as a predominantly Australian collection of wine. For those looking for a feed, the menu serves up a mix of classic pub fare and woodfired pizzas.
Even though the refurbishment and enhanced drinks offering are designed to make it a destination, it’s still very much a locals’ pub – just as it’s been for nearly a century and a half. Young families dropping in regularly for a meal, residents eager for a stout on the cold walk home from the train in winter, and those keen to catch a game of footy with a good beer in hand still make the building theirs, as the pub’s founders no doubt intended.
NB There will be an offer for Crafty Cabal members soon; they're just waiting for their tasting paddles to arrive!