The Post Office Hotel – Pride of Coburg

I don’t get out Coburg way very much. It’s not that I have anything against it, it’s more that I don’t really have much call to head in that direction. I did a quick quiz with my mates and it turns out I’m not alone. There is rarely a reason for us to head any further north than Brunswick or Northcote (and even then my friends from the East and South rarely make it that far). This is a shame because Coburg is home to some really great pubs. The Post Office Hotel is a perfect example.

The Post Office Hotel

The Post Office Hotel

I probably still wouldn’t have known about the Post Office if it hadn’t been for one of my favorite bands playing there last winter. The gig was awesome and I remember thinking the it was a perfect pub night: the band went off, the crowd were really into them, it was a cold and wet night outside but inside was warm and cosy, and the venue had so much character. I’ve wanted to go back ever since and it’s criminal that Brooke and I only just made this happen a couple of weeks ago.

POH Turntables

POH Turntables

This time I also spoke to Troy and Sumi, two of the owners, about what makes this pub tick, and what their plans were for the future.

I started out by asking about the pub’s history. Being a good Art Deco building I assumed it was built in the 1920s. This may well be the case for the current building, but Troy brought out an old black and white photograph of a timber building that stood on the site for a good while before this. I don’t know the exact year that a licenced establishment first set up business on the site, but what’s clear is that the pub has had many different incarnations throughout its long history, and that the place clearly has significance to many different people.

The original POH

The original POH

One such group who hold the POH dear are retired army officers. Just behind the pub stands a building that operates today as a kindergarten. However, once upon a time this building served as army accommodation for the nearby barracks. The pub, which at the time rented out rooms on the second storey, used to get a lot of business at the bar from servicemen.

In another incarnation the POH was well known as a local bikie pub. It has also been a stripper/topless pub, a little old man pub (you know the type, nobody under 70 in the joint, lots of geezers with long white ear hair sitting around complaining about “young people today”) and, while it doesn’t sound like it was official or exclusive, it was also a popular lesbian hangout at one point (probably not while the bikies were still there though I’m guessing). How do Troy and Sumi know all this? People keep coming back to reminisce and can’t keep from sharing their old stories. One old guy drinking there recently remembered having had his first beer at the POH (at the tender age of 14! Liquor licencing laws were a little different back then I’m guessing.).

Locals at the bar

Locals at the bar

Troy, Sumi and the other owners have been in command of the Post Office for two years now. They live close by and before taking over often found themselves in the old and character-filled pubs of Fitzroy, Abbotsford and Collingwood. They got talking over beers about how great it would be if there was a pub like that in Coburg. A little later they teamed up with the other owners to try their hand at making The Post Office just that. They wanted to create a space for good live music as well as a great place to dine, yet it was very important to them to keep it a traditional and local pub, to keep true to the heart of the place.

Music is a big part of this pub. A couple of the owners have a background in band management and the place is decorated with some really impressive framed band posters they have collected over the years. The band management background and network also come in handy for attracting and hosting quality live music. Past acts include Tex Perkins and his Ladyboyz, Bob Log III, Angie Hart, Blood Red Bird and Parallel Lions.

Gig posters

Gig posters

While music is a key part of the current POH identity, great food is equally as important. Troy and Sumi both come from a hospitality background with Troy having spent time as head chef of well-known Melbourne restaurant Momo. A large side room functions as the pub’s restaurant. Troy describes it as “relaxed fine dining” and the menu takes inspiration from Middle Eastern cuisine.

The dining room

The dining room

As part of their commitment to great food and beer they took part in the 2011 Good Beer Week and the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival. For Good Beer Week this year they are hoping to work with a local brewery to put together a beer degustation menu. For the Food and Wine Festival they are thinking about working with a local farmer who champions goat (the world’s most commonly eaten meat). Melbourne Pub Culture will be putting together a feature post for both Good Beer Week and The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival closer to the date so stay tuned for more details.

As well as people wanting good food, those in the front bar or beer garden aren’t forgotten about either. The bar menu offers top quality pub food. Now, I know what you’re thinking…parma. The POH parma is made fresh from 100% organic chicken breast, which is crumbed with Japanese breadcrumbs and covered with homemade Napoli sauce. The whole thing also comes with a side of coleslaw instead of garden salad and hand-cut chips.  They do put a lot of love into their parmas.

The beer garden

The beer garden

Let’s talk beer. I was stoked to see Cricketers Arms Lager on tap. So is Cascade Green and ever-faithful and ubiquitous Carlton Draught. In the fridge you’ll find a greater range of beer and cider including offerings from Little Creatures, Mildura, Matilda Bay (home of Fat Yak), Coopers, Bulmers and Rekorderlig. For the wine drinker there is also a thoughtfully chosen wine list.

Little known fact: on the wall behind the blackboard in the small bar nook opposite the dining room, many past patrons of the POH have scribbled their names. Some of these are dated, with the earliest being from the 1960s.

Black board

Black board

I asked Troy if the POH does anything special for holidays or events during the year. He said the two big days are Melbourne Cup Day and AFL Grand Final Day. For both these events they put up a marquee out the back and throw a ton of plasmas in the front bar, the dining room and out the back.

They also make a big deal of the pub’s birthday (the anniversary of when the current owners opened for business). How does a pub celebrate its birthday? Well, it changes from year to year. Last year everyone who attended got a free POH t-shirt…this year they’re toying with the idea of putting one of the local’s home brew on tap, or even putting together a coffee table book featuring the pub and some of its regulars. Add some great music and food specials and the rest writes itself.

Couches

Couches

Apart from these big annual events the POH has regular events of its own throughout the year. In 2011 the restaurant held a Mystery Dinner each night. People would book without knowing anything about the night’s set menu, discovering upon arrival which dishes, and from which international cuisine, they’d be eating. They were a great success. Sunday is also a feature day for the pub. Firstly, this is when they feature their live bands and secondly, they serve their Roast of the Day. They pride themselves on never doing the same roast twice.

The POH clientele are as diverse as the pub’s history (and as Coburg in general is for that matter). They still have a bunch of locals come in who’ve been calling the POH home since well before anyone can remember. At the same time they get post-work tradies (and the odd corporate suit) and often families. Plus they occasionally get a confused biker stopping by. It’s a friendly pub and anyone would feel at home there.

The front bar

The front bar

What about the future of the POH? Well, in 2012 they’re extending their beer garden, putting down some decking and adding an outdoor bar. This will allow them to further extend the dining room. They’re also moving in next door. Yes, the POH also owns the adjacent building and are looking to fuse this with the existing. This will not only increase the public space but will allow for two kitchens; one dedicated to the dining room, and one dedicated to the bar menu. Troy hopes this will allow him to extend the bar menu and try some different things like dry-ageing their own meat.

Thanks to Troy and Sumi for taking time out of their busy schedule to talk pubs with me. I love what they’ve done with The Post Office and I promise to be back again soon.

Click here to like the Post Office Hotel on Facebook or follow @POHCoburg on Twitter.

1 Comment

  1. shamsher
    Jul 7, 2012

    nice article

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