Tom Collins finds a refuge from the psychological torture of shopping, inside a pub.
Shopping centres are evil behemoths that kill the retailers outside of them, screw down the tenants inside, and use psychological sleight of hand to part the unsuspecting from their money.
I traipsed through Westfield Bondi Junction recently. In the labyrinthine shopping centre, under the glare of fluorescent lights, I quickly felt ill at ease. “Aren’t we made for something better than this?” I asked myself. Thank God for Bondi Junction Westfield’s only saving grace: a pub.
While shopping centres are a testament to everything that is wrong with society, perpetuating the lie that happiness comes with commodities, pubs offer a moment of refuge. With the salve of booze, we remember that it’s relationships with other people that really matter.
I’d go to the Eastern through the back entrance, which adjoined the Westfield, and swap nods with other heretics escaping high church of consumerism. After a couple of beers I might even talk to them. Our stories would always be similar: we understood drinking was better than shopping.
A shock was lying in wait on my last visit. The Eastern Hotel was not the pub that I remembered. There were dining booths with candy-striped vinyl lounges. Witty signs like “I like big buns” advertised burgers. There was a couple with two kids chowing into burgers and fries, not a beer to be seen at their table. A fat guy came in and ordered a Coke as he waited for his meal. A menu told me I was in “GoodTime Burgers.”
These people hadn’t come for sanctuary from the shopping centre. This was a pit stop before they continued on their adventure. The pub was a restaurant; a restaurant with tap beer, but a restaurant nonetheless.
The good thing was they had a solid range of beers. Alongside beers made in Australia posing as imports, and beers owned overseas posing as local, there were a few beers made and owned by Australians.
I ordered a Stone and Wood, wondering what was happening in the world when perfectly good pubs turned into restaurants. The schooner eased my jangled nerves and I ordered a burger.
It was a hearty, filling burger. I was only halfway through when my glass was empty. I ordered a Four Pines, to help me tackle the rest of a top feed. If I was forced to criticise the burger, my only complaint would be that the beetroot was shredded rather than sliced – but I’m old fashioned that way.
Two beers in and the Eastern was starting to look bloody good again, even in in its GoodTime Burgers manifestation. I flicked through a booklet on the table that was spruiking the reno, and saw another level of the pub – El Topo – was serving Mexican food.
Maybe you can’t survive as a pub if you aren’t serving Mexican food or jumping on the Americana bandwagon. If that’s the case, so be it. I’ll eat burritos and enjoy a Fifties diner refurb as long as they’re serving cold, quality beer.
The Eastern opened its doors in 1942, and was easing the woes of drinkers for more than half a century before the Westfield was built around it. Whatever form the pub takes, I hope it’s serving beer for at least a half century more, long after that abomination is reduced to rubble.