Friday 28 February 2014

The Unpublished 18: Bars of Perth

I visited Perth, Western Australia in late 2011 on the Indian Pacific train, and researched this article about the city's bars while I was there. However, due to a change of editor it was never published. So here it is now, for your drinking pleasure...

Lava Flow, Tropical Itch, Shrunken Head or Easter Island Iced Tea?

I’m sitting in a Perth bar, mulling over its odd but interesting drinks menu. It’s not an easy choice, but it’s one I’m glad to have.

When I lived in Perth in the '90s, it was a sunny, open-air kind of place, much given to backyard barbecues, early morning beach visits, and ice-cream licking expeditions among the boutiques of portside Fremantle.

What it didn’t have was a sophisticated bar scene; about the classiest drink you could order then was a microbrew from a pub with its own vats out the back.

Things have changed, however, with the coming of modern, sophisticated venues like those of the sinful cities of the “Eastern States” (as locals call the rest of the country). Here’s a selection.

Hula Bula Bar
12 Victoria Ave
08 9225 4457,

This downstairs Tiki-themed bar is the one with the fascinating menu, and is hidden among the office buildings of the CBD’s eastern end.

It’s a riot of colour. The small front bar is jammed with wooden masks, bamboo, fake foliage, leopard print upholstery, and a long cabinet full of rum bottles and Tiki mugs.

On a Saturday evening it’s busy with cheerful groups of friends milling around the limited floor space, the occasional duo attempting a dance to the retro-themed music that's the soundscape to this celebration of kitsch.

The drinks menu, in small colourful flipbooks scattered around the venue, features a lot of rum-based cocktails. If you ask them nicely, the bar staff will serve them in grotesquely visaged Tiki mugs.

The Tiki style sprang from the impressions of US soldiers returning from South Pacific service in World War II, moulding islander traditions into an eccentric and entertaining thematic mish-mash. As the American military left behind the “cargo cult” in places such as Vanuatu, the islands gave the USA Tiki decor in return.

It’s so ludicrous that it seems absurd rather than culturally insensitive, an amusing relic from the past. That’s certainly the sense of my Don’s Zombie cocktail, following a 1934 recipe which blends four types of rum producing “a complex blend of sweet, sour and spice” ($22). It’s accompanied on the list by the novelties I mentioned earlier. You can always settle for the classic Mai Tai if the jolliness is getting hard to bear.

Though if you don’t have a sense of humour, there’s no point in visiting the Hula Bula. It keeps on (just) the right side of the line between theme and gimmick, and is infused with a palpable sense of fun about its over-the-top decor. Right down to the small rubber zombie figure bobbing around in my cocktail.

Wolf Lane
Wolf Lane (rear of 321 Murray St)
08 9322 4671,

This bar’s name derives from the alleyway it’s on, itself named after 19th century expat American architect William Wolfe. The bar is inside a big corner venue which suggests a former warehouse, with windows along both sides.

It’s been given a glamorous contemporary makeover, its scuffed timber floorboards supporting sharply geometrical white sofas and armchairs in white and green, and black circular stools. At one end, a clutch of seats are positioned by an open window, perfectly placed to catch a dose of the Fremantle Doctor, the city’s ever-reliable afternoon sea breeze off the Indian Ocean.

The flat-capped guy who serves me is pretty mellow at this quiet early end of the night, asking if I’d prefer a spicier version of the charcuterie board and chatting about my long journey from Sydney aboard the Indian Pacific, before recommending a glass of shiraz from the wine list.

The charcuterie selection (pictured above, $24) is great, a generous and tasty mix of meats, cheese and pickled vegetables; and this shiraz is coping nicely with the spice. As the sunlight slowly fades and the ceiling fans turn against the summer warmth, I’m chilling nicely.

Devilles Pad
3 Aberdeen Street
08 9225 6669,

Past two gyrating animated devils, the inner doors open onto what Austin Powers would call a “swinging shindig” - a packed, split-level space bathed in red light and dotted with crimson lamps held in braziers. There’s a cavern effect to the ceiling, with garish streamers dangling like stalactites.

A mish-mash of bar, restaurant and nightclub, Devilles has been styled as a classic Las Vegas showroom. It serves meals till 10pm, tables are scattered along the level above the dance floor, and go-go girls occasionally burst into motion on the stage (pictured above) between retro numbers such as My Boy Lollipop.

Cocktails are mainly reinvented classics such as the Satanique Sling ($18). More interestingly, Devilles has a variety of absinthe behind the bar. This also pops up in the Horny Devil ($18), an absinthe-based punch.

It could be cheesy - well it is - but it’s also enormous fun, a tongue-in-cheek retro space which looks like something from a Shag print. Inspired by its silliness, the crowd is a good-natured bunch. One women sees me making notes by red lamplight and asks if I’m a poet. “I love writers!” she gushes, before sweeping on.

It’s always nice to be appreciated. I’m smiling along with the positive vibe in the room, a mix of laidback good times and the energy generated by a mining boom; a strange invigorating blend that’s uniquely Perth.

Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of Great Southern Rail.

The Unpublished is a series of travel articles which were written by me for other publications, but never published for random reasons. For previous instalments, click on the The Unpublished label below, then scroll down.

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