Say what you will about South Yarra, in whatever tone you want. Whether or not its shiny vibes, designer threads and beautiful denizens are your scene or not, I’d assert that it’s about time something new appeared around that end of Chapel Street. Something that isn’t a pumping club, or a pub with a sleek, new fit-out full of reflective surfaces and desperate gropes towards “elegance”. It was mental thunderous applause then, that was going through my head upon arriving at the Sweetwater Inn.
I’ll admit, it was difficult to keep a grin from my face, such was my joy in seeing something so refreshingly inventive in South Yarra. Nay, in Melbourne in general. Something that isn’t a “Prohibition-era speakeasy” or a “homage to New York-style cocktail bars” or “something else from the 1930s” — rejoice! The Sweetwater Inn is an excursion to the very opposite end of the spectrum, finding inspiration in what was really under all of our noses: old-school Australiana.
Inside the barn-like structure, one finds brick walls decked out in animal hides, corrugated iron, skulls, rusted wheels, and a beautiful 100-odd year old bar. The trio behind the Sweetwater, Mark Catsburg, Guy Bentley and Benn Wood (all veterans of Melbourne’s bar scene) have gone all out in their quest for Australiana, but have thankfully done so in a way that never strays into the the realm of cheesy or OTT. It’s more Wake in Fright than Crocodile Dundee, except without the bad vibes. Put it this way, it’s more badassery than cork hat.
Hell, even my companion that night — who generally buries all compliments under about ten layers of irony — couldn’t help but let out a completely sincere, “Dude! This place is fucking rad!”
A look at the menu is similarly refreshing/interesting/tasty. We ordered a kangaroo steak sandwich, served with Melbourne Bitter braised onions (patriotic!), and the “Chip Buttie with the Lot”, which is exactly as down-and-dirty and delicious as it sounds. Chips in a roll, with bacon, beetroot, an egg, and a whole lot of delicious mess. Not recommended if you’re on a date and want to look graceful while eating. We’ve heard good things about the prawn skewers, but what can I say — when you want a chip buttie, you damn well want a chip buttie. The kangaroo steak sandwich was met with indecipherable sounds of approval, and I obviously didn’t get to taste any; a good sign.
I washed down my meal with a pint of the Sweetwater Lager, which seemed appropriate and proved to be pretty tasty. There’s a nice selection of beers available, as well as a bunch of old favourites — VB, Melbourne Bitter, etc — in cans (patriotic!). We didn’t peruse the wine list properly unfortunately, but we’ll blame that on our excitement and hunger and the fact that our food was imminent. My pal had the Billy Tea with his roo sandwich, a cocktail served in a can, that again caused him to give genuine praise, devoid of irony. I gave the Wild Scotchman a whirl, which soon made me wish my pal and I had the time to work our way through the cocktail (and shot) menu. But alas, we did not.
I tell you what though, I’d argue that the Sweetwater Inn is one of the better things to have happened in and around Chapel Street/South Yarra/Southside in a long while. The staff are amiable, and speak of their new watering hole with a for-real excitement. The food’s tasty and good value, the drinks are damn enjoyable and thoughtfully selected, and the ambience is laid-back, with the requisite amount of cool to attract northerners to the south. Frankly, it’s an excitement that’s warranted. Here’s a tinnie raised to the Sweetwater Inn.