By Michael Harden, Reviewer
June 18, 2008
This is straightforward pub-style food, but cooked with a bit of flair and an eye for good ingredients.
There is a certain Melbourne pub just bred for the city's inner north. It is something of a peculiar, platypus-like breed that blends seemingly disparate elements - old-school Aussie pub, 1950s American rock'n'roll, perhaps a little '60s garage rock, a commitment to above average booze and food - into a functional, eccentrically enjoyable whole.Fitzroy's Standard Hotel was something of a template for the breed in the 1990s and now Collingwood's Gem Bar & Dining Room is proving that there is still plenty of life in the formula.
The Gem used to be called Curry's Family Hotel and despite the framed Elvis portraits, the tattooed bartenders and a crowd that leans towards chunky boots and skinny jeans, the welcoming, unpretentious vibe suggested by the former name still holds sway.
Most of the action at the Gem happens in the wooden-floored front bar, though there is also a nattily attired dining room, a few other nooks and crannies out the back and a streetside drinking area for those less public bar-inclined. There is live country-acoustic music several times a week (with the musicians performing in one corner of the room, near the pool table) and, in between bands, two turntables and a heap of vintage vinyl behind the bar supply the soundtrack.
Even with the bands playing, it is pretty low key soundwise (the '60s ceiling tiles seem to be doing the trick) with a vibe that is closer to lounge room than nightclub.
The Gem is seriously committed to beer, with up to eight on tap and a good selection of bottled stuff. There is a decent wine list with everything available by the glass and spirits lean towards top shelf without stepping over the line into the hyper-exclusive rare and endangered category.
The food is as good an excuse as any for a visit - straightforward pub-style, but cooked with a bit of flair and an eye for good ingredients. Steak sandwiches or a free-range chicken parma will soak up the sizeable quantities of beer you find yourself drinking once settled into the Gem's low-key bonhomie. It is good, solid pub continuing a proud tradition.
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