More than a century ago, White Oaks was an American town awash with people, booze and revelry. The discovery of gold turned the outpost located towards the middle of New Mexico into one with a booming population, where tents sprung up faster than they could be counted, and led to White Oaks becoming known as the Liveliest Town in the Territory.
That liveliness likely helped attract many an outlaw, including Billy the Kid, whose life of crime ended (while his notoriety lived on) after he was shot by the local sheriff and former barman Pat Garrett.
Today, White Oaks is a ghost town, an abandoned point of reference for travellers passing through or history nerds looking to soak up stories of bygone action – along with no shortage of dust.
Anyone looking for a far livelier modern day White Oaks should instead set their compass for Prahran. It’s there they’ll find the White Oaks Bar and Saloon, opened by Tom and Nick Welch in 2014, the duo who later opened the SoCal-inspired Silverlake Social with Byron Barrowclough. Whereas Silverlake draws its inspiration from the late night bars of LA, White Oaks looks to recreate the saloon bars of America’s south.
As soon as you get close and spot the neon lighting seeping through its drawn shades, it’s clear this is a theme that’s been wholly embraced. Inside, the mounted animal head, portraits of cowboys and other glimpses of life on the prairie are so impressively interwoven it’s hard to believe the same spot was once home to a Sicilian restaurant.
But it’s the backbar – one loaded with bourbons, rums, tequilas and all manner of other potent booze – that’s most likely to transport any American back home. Many of the spirits are rarely spotted outside the places where they’re distilled and, while the choice might appear overwhelming, choosing from one of the Old West-inspired cocktails is likely a good place to start.
Though spirits and cocktails were the main focus when the White Oaks doors were first flung open, quality beer has become an increasingly important part of the vibe too. The bar’s four taps regularly showcase beers that hail from the States – the likes of New Belgium, Brooklyn and Abita, a Louisiana brewery rarely seen on these shores. Beers brewed far closer to home also frequent the taps, while the bar’s beery offerings are well augmented by the cans and bottles stocked behind the bar.
Considering the heavily-laden shelves of the backbar, it will come as no surprise to learn boilermakers are front and centre too. Each week, the staff introduce a new boilermaker menu, with Monday night’s Art Of The Boilermaker classes a chance to try each of them and discover a world where malt meets malt (or, indeed, other forms of hard liquor). Often bourbon takes centre stage, but you’ll also find tequila and other spirits thoughtfully paired with beer.
That attention to pairing is extended to the menu, where diners aren’t just guided towards which stout goes best with a pork slider but also which tequila-based cocktail would be just right for your deep-fried shrimp. It’s a menu that is always American-inspired but changes quite frequently and is heavy on options suitable for sharing – and for being washed down with an accompanying beer.
That said, maybe you’d best have a glass of bourbon in the other hand too. It is the liveliest town in the territory after all.