Once home to the homeless, the closure of the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul facilities in Whitmore Square has changed the character and perceptions of the area. Moving with these changes, local pubs have been finding new ways to be part of the community.
Gone are the seedy strip bars and damp carpets. A new breed of pub has arrived. Come on a trip south of Grote St, and west of King William St to uncover the secrets of the South West.
You will find a friendly welcoming crew, making keen efforts to attract new customers, offering live music and differentiating with food styles and quality. While generally not matching their CBD counterparts on food price, there are a few surprising exceptions.
The Duke of Brunswick from the outside is your classic Adelaide "two floors with a balcony" type of pub. Inside, the bar is modern, bright and clean, while still preserving many of the original features. There is a classy looking dining room and an attractive beer garden at the back which looks ideal for a lazy Sunday afternoon. No surprise that this pub is popular for functions.
The bar staff (and friendly locals) were quick to greet me, there was a respectable range of wines on offer, and an adequate moderately priced bar menu. It referred to $10 lunch specials but I didn't see any other mention of these.
The Gilbert is quite different, with prominent signs advertising live music on Thursdays and Sundays with attendant food specials. There is a pleasant alfresco dining area at the front, while inside there is a strong featuring of the colour red. Decor was quite traditional pub style.
The chef was working in the front bar as I arrived, and greeted me cheerily. There were plenty of signs featuring the wide range of drinks available, but not much information about food. After the chef offered to get the bar manager to talk to me, I waited 10 minutes but she/he was presumably unavailable and didn't show up.
I found a menu on the pub's website, and there is an excellent range of offerings for those willing to spend appropriately. Think more restaurant than pub, but you are guaranteed a good choice. Options like Portuguese White Fish Pataniscas might bring me back here to try the food.
On entering the beautifully timbered front bar at the Prince Albert I was quickly approached by the friendly barman. He agreed that the focus is providing a high quality dining experience, rather than cheap pub meals for the hoi polloi. To supplement the meals aimed at office workers, they are widening their burger menu range significantly in coming weeks.
There are an astounding five menus available for your food selection on the website, from breakfast to bistro and between with an enormous range to choose from. While I doubt the local council workers will pop in for a Full Breakfast at $18, there will be something to appeal to everyone there.
This is definitely a place to consider for your office party, with a balcony dining area also available for group bookings
Hotel Wright St
Most people will know The Wright St better under its previous name of The Old Queens Arms. Most of the OQ's will hardly recognise the place now after its most recent transformation. It's now open and airy with a focus on fine dining and cider. And did I mention cider?
I was met by a friendly bar attendant and when I mentioned I was writing an article, was quickly offered a complimentary drink. Despite declining, she served me a welcome glass of iced water. It was thirsty work watching everyone else eat and drink.
Sadly for the skint, there was not a schnitty special in sight. However there is an eclectic mix of food with a hint of Europe and the Middle East. Price seem to start around $20 for meals, but that wasn't deterring a steady stream of customers at lunchtime.
There is a sunny Cider Garden, possibly a good location to enjoy your Saturday breakfast of Frick's free range eggs, char grilled house dry hung bacon, slow roast tomato, toscana and toast for a tenner. Now that gets a thumbs up from me.
The Whitmore Hotel
I nearly missed the Whitmore as it's not prominently listed in many bar guides to Adelaide, but I'm glad I saw it on my travels. Once home to homeless people and the venue for strip acts, the new owner has made great efforts to change its clientèle, upgrade it services and cater for SW Corner locals.
A range of attractions are on offer from live music in the back bar a few nights a week to a pool table in the front bar. There's even a current calendar of coming events on the website. The bar staff were friendly and service was quick.
The menu aims to please most diners with daily specials for $8 if you're on a budget. The more upmarket menu averages around the low $20 range with a modest but sound range of choices. I do think they should use PDF files rather than a Word document for their web menu to make it more widely accessible.
This place gets my vote for a solid, clean place trying hard to give good value to the average pub goer.
Whitmore Front Bar
King William St The Brecknock
Situated right on the edge of the SW Corner, the Heritage listed Brecknock was for many years the best known and most highly regarded Irish pub in SA. It was a huge focus for festivities every St Patrick's Day. Disappointingly when it was sold in 2011 much of the contents were auctioned.
When I arrived at 11.15 on a Friday morning, the pub wasn't open. The only staff member ignored me until I spoke to him, telling me that opening time was 11.30. There was no signage for a food menu or drinks specials, so it seems that it is only being kept open in a half hearted way pending decisions on neighbouring property development.
Kings Head Hotel
A pleasant contrast to the Brecknock was the bustling Kings Head Hotel. A helpful bar staff member was quick to explain the commitment by the Kings Head Hotel to only use South Australian produce unless there is no alternative. That's something I can wholeheartedly support.
While it clearly has the benefit of a prominent location reasonably close to the market and commercial centre of the city, I was still surprised by how busy it was in both the front bar and dining room. It's probably helped by the $10 workday specials, despite the catch that a drink purchase is required.
In the dining room prices start just shy of $20 with a very good range of choices, although it was a little less inspired than some of the other pubs I reviewed. Still a good choice for a group booking though, as service seemed quick.
Gouger St The Directors Hotel
The Directors Hotel is a somewhat unusual blend of Thai restaurant and local pub. Even more strangely, the restaurant is located right inside the front bar. I like Thai food, and enjoy visiting bars. But I did find this combination odd.
Apart from this observation the helpful staff were quick to say hello when I entered, the bar was clean, and a pool table was found in the opposite side of the room.
Daily (Thai) lunch specials are available for $12 and there is an outdoor dining area at the front of the hotel. Schnitzels and more conventional fare are also on the menu. Fortunately the pokies are in a room at the rear, and don't noticeably impact bar patrons.
Aces Bar and Bistro
Although it's neither on Gouger St or a local pub, Aces Bar is a focal point for people at the Central Market. It caters for the needs of many Market workers and visitors, while office workers use it as lunchtime escape too.
Aces Bar and Bistro
Although it's a noisy and often crowded environment, it has the plus of offering free wifi access for people who like to be connected on the cheap. Smokers are catered for with a small room adjacent to the main eating area.
Aces Bar Specials
The menu includes most of the traditional pub offerings like fish and chips, steak, schnitzels, pizza, and pasta. Don't expect anything too fancy, but it's nearly all under $20. Play your cards right and you might ace a drink with the change. Bound to be a hit with the young homebuyer on a tight budget.
The Talbot Hotel
Last on the list to visit is the Talbot, which has morphed over the years from a popular pub with considerable character and charm to a bar with a large gaming room at the rear of the premises. No meals are served at all.
Despite this the staff member I spoke to was optimistic, saying that a group of young people have recently bought the Talbot and she expects a change in direction. Let's hope so.
The staff member did highly recommend the Rumba Latino nights on Friday and Saturday, saying that they are extremely popular. I sure hope so, as it wasn't a good look finding the only bar patrons already tanked by 12 lunchtime.