Revamping an old pub isn’t easy, but the team behind The George make it look effortless. Wines, tacos, lively ambience – they’ve hit the trifecta.
These pages normally focus on dedicated wine bars, though more esoteric venues have been a feature now and then. Shining the spotlight on a pub is an entirely new thing. The George Hotel is, simply, one of the great pubs, and the addition of a considered and lengthy, natural wine-focused program is icing on the cake.
Jaime Wirth and Michael Delaney are no strangers to pubs, having renovated and operated a swathe of them in Sydney under their Drink’n’Dine group including The Norfolk, The Carrington, The Oxford Tavern and Flinders Hotel, among others. The gentlemen sold those pubs and had a hiatus, but in the past year have brought on board Joel Amos, director of the online wine specialist DRNKS.com to flesh out the offering.
The trio have already scooped up the prime pub The Duke of Enmore and given it a spit shine, they’ve swung open the doors of the fantastic Old Fitzroy in Woolloomooloo after a renovation, and now in the mix is The George Hotel, a former dive bar in the heart of Waterloo.
“Jaime, Mike and I always liked the pub, it’s an old brewery pub, full of character from the layout through to the locals who prop up the bar,” explains Amos. “It felt close to perfect straight away, some general cosmetic stuff needed to be done but it has more or less retained its last renovations from the 1960s.”
Colours and feel have been tweaked, but the layout and shape hasn’t changed. The dining room needed to be more cosy, the beer garden brighter and fresher, and the front bar got a lick of paint and not much more.
The George mainlines a sense of fun and has become a destination for wine events, alternative dance parties, one-off wine dinners and, importantly, the first bricks and mortar version of Amos’ DRNKS online store. “The space for the bottle shop was the creepiest room. It had a pinball machine in it, a Street Fighter arcade machine, a strangely located dart board, a gross couch, and a photo wall of all the locals that used to drink there,” states Amos.
It’s been brightened and opened up, a cool room has gone in, a communal table is the centrepiece and the walls are lined with a cornucopia of avant-garde wines – the list is focused on natural producers, family grower-makers, but skirts a line between wacky and more serious.
Food at the pub is by the group chef, Toby Wilson, who established his credentials as the owner and famed taco-maker of leading Sydney Mexican restaurants Ghostboy Cantina and Bad Hombres. The pub is now a complete package.
Top Drinks: Alipus San Luis – The herbaceous and spicy mezcal caught Amos’ eye, “It’s got plenty of interest and drinkability”. Ichnusa – Crisp, dry, brisk beer, “it borderline tastes like nothing but it has alcohol in it, and it is very refreshing,” offers Amos.
Drink + Food Match: The Ensenada fish tacos and the chewy orange wine, Paski, from cult Italian producers Cantina Giardino appears to be the go to. “It’s just a perfect synergy; vinegary acid of Paski with fried fish seems kindred,” states Amos.
Best Dish: Cauliflower taco is the hit of the taco menu, showing crunch and softness and dressed lightly, it is wildly popular with wine drinkers. “I think chef Toby Wilson nails the vegan and flavoursome thing so very well,” Amos says.
OTHER SYDNEY BARS
➼ Double Deuce Lounge
6 Bridge St, Sydney
A newcomer from the crew that brought us the wild-edged Ramblin’ Rascal Tavern. This brand new venue has a 1970s vibe with great cocktails and wine.
➼ Cottonmouth Records
182 Enmore Rd, Enmore, cottonmouth-records.com
It’s a record store, but then there’s a brilliant collection of whisky to sip on as you browse. Just settle in with a cocktail or dram and soak up the tunes.
➼ Golden Gully
153 Norton St, Leichhardt, goldengullybar.com.au
A boon for the inner west, Golden Gully is run by dedicated wine fanciers who focus on boutique and natural-leaning wine producers. One-off themed wine nights are also in the mix.