When Juanita's opened in 2011 at the top end of Rokeby Road in Subiaco, owner Murray Gill displayed a sign that basically told reviewers they weren't welcome. There were probably two reasons for this: firstly, it's a tiny little bar, a literal hole in the wall, and huge crowds would diminish the appeal of this cosy and quirky joint. Secondly, Murry Gill says he already knows how good it is. You have to admire that.
Everything I had heard about Juanita's from its hidden location at the back of an an arts supplies store, to its lack of menu and unique host came from surreptitious reviews, mentions in the Good Food Guide and appearances on almost every Top 10 list printed in the past year. Without exception, most used the word 'quirky' when describing this small bar. Oh, and small.
I had done my homework beforehand. I knew to be on the lookout for a small wooden sign declaring the location, almost unnoticeable in the window of the Gill and Hille Merchants window. What I wasn't expecting were the crowds of happy people, crammed behind tottering tables on the footpath, then more again around the corner being served through a hole in the wall. Apparently, this gem isn't so hidden anymore.
The main room of this bar is about the size of the average suburban lounge room. The odd assortment of chairs and tables are reminiscent of Grandma's 1950s house, and there are more chairs dotting the tiny passageway down the side of the art supply store.
When we walked in, it looked like two women were sitting patiently waiting for a bus. No, they were customers, the only giveaway being the massive wine glasses in their hands, and the satisfied look on their faces that they had nabbed one of the rare inside tables. At least, I think there was a table, it could have just been chairs. Or possibly an old crate. Apparently you can book the back room for small functions.
We didn't stay to eat as we were heading up the street for dinner, but if you do plan on eating you need to go with an open mind. Offerings change daily and are entirely the whim of Murray's wife, and bar namesake Juanita. While we saw Murray moving between tables, eyes everywhere, greeting regulars, we didn't see Juanita, who makes the $45 tapas platters.
Everyone is welcome at Juanita's, except reviewers
The crowd at Juanita's is not your standard, early twenties, killer high heels and short skirts crowd. Some of the people had *gasp* wrinkles. But this is not a senior citizens drop-in centre, it is a bar where people with a certain level of maturity are drawn, and feel welcome. Perhaps they can relate to the formica tables and old tin toys. Perhaps they love the Spanish wines. Perhaps they're sick of Subiaco's killer high heel and short skirt crowds.
At half past six on a Friday evening, the place was heaving. In an attempt to quell things down, a 'full sorry' sign had been placed on the footpath. Everyone was ignoring it. Still, if you can't find a table, there's not much in the way of standing room, so you'd be hard-pressed to stay all night if you haven't got anywhere to put your bottom.
This is a local bar and it's pretty small. I'm not sure if driving across town on the off-chance you'd get a seat would be a wise thing, but if you're in the area, and you hear an unexpectedly loud and happy crowd from an otherwise quiet art shop, then perchance you've found Juanita's, and just like Alice falling through the rabbit's hole, you should probably go in, and see what's happening.