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Australian Pubs Are the Family-Friendly Bars We Need in America

Plus, the ideal pubs for every occasion in Melbourne

A young girl playfully munches pizza with her parents at a pub in Coburg
Karlee, Bill, and Cedd — a local family of three hang at the Post Office Hotel pub in Coburg

During my first visit to Melbourne in July, a friend took me to her favorite neighborhood pub. It was an Australian-style pub in the classic sense — a corner storefront with a big oak bar, green low-pile carpeting, walls plastered with beer adverts, the smell of fry oil in the air, and bare tables pushed together into haphazard configurations. It was Wednesday night, trivia night, and when we arrived around 7:30 p.m. my friend’s family was already there, halfway through a round of drinks and a platter of cheese-smothered parma with fries — sorry, chips.

The category at that moment was The Good Wife, and beneath the flickering glow of a television, my friend’s sister, brother, brother’s girlfriend, uncle, dad’s buddy, old friends, husband, and 15-year-old son hotly debated the name of lead character Alicia Florrick’s younger brother. We guessed Craig; it was Owen. No matter. The next category was Fortnite, and thanks to the cola-sipping teenager in our midst, we crushed it.

Every Wednesday for the past three years, my friend’s whole family, including kids, has headed to the pub together. Sometimes it’s just the 15-year-old, but other times there’ll be toddlers, grade schoolers, and several shriveled lumps of sleeping infants. These kids are hanging out with their parents on a Wednesday night. But maybe more importantly, their parents are hanging out with them.

There’s been a lot of talk recently about American parents bringing kids to places where alcohol is present. Vox explored the growing trend of breweries becoming de facto playgrounds for beer-loving parents, and Eater provided tips for bringing your baby to a bar in a way that won’t make your fellow patrons, or eventually your kid, hate you. In Australia, this blurry line distinguishing kid-appropriate public spaces from others doesn’t really exist — because Australia has the pub.

In the U.S., a “pub” likely calls to mind one of two things: The brewery-attached brewpub, where food is present (or obligatory) but is considered a lesser priority than the specialty hop-laden-brew of the moment, or the gastropub, 2004’s restaurant style that purported to serve, finally, really great food in a bar. A pub in Australia is so much more. An Australian pub is where, on Tuesday, you celebrate your coworker’s birthday over a lunch of fish and chips and a modest pot of VB. Friday it’s where you come with your spouse for a quick dinner and date night. On Saturday, you leave the kids with your mom and trade the wine for tequila shots because fuck it. And on Sunday, it’s where your cousin posts up to show off her new baby and swap new-parent war stories while the 8-year-olds play Pokémon under the table. If you’re lucky, it’s all located within stroller-pushing distance of your house. But it’s always a gathering place, a true all-ages, all-day community hub that’s rarely seen stateside. And in Melbourne, there’s one on literally every corner.

Children and parents live segregated lives in American society today. We spend the majority of our time apart, in our various workplaces, schools, and childcare facilities. The weekend, then, becomes the time to cram it all in: family bonding, catching up with friends to talk about Fleabag, and personal decompression — best with the depressive aid of at least one stiff drink. I have two kids who I honestly want to spend time with. I just also want someone else to make me a gin and tonic while I relish some adult conversation. You can’t always do these things at the same time in a fully fledged bar, which is pretty much just a place for drinking. But you can in a pub. I wish America had more of them.

When we wholeheartedly welcome kids into our adult social spaces, adults tend to keep their shit a little bit more together, and the places become altogether more wholesome. Bars — real bars — should continue to be places where we go to sit in the dark and let loose and do stuff we probably shouldn’t in better lighting and not have to worry about carrying wet wipes or our kids eating gum off the floor. To keep that space sacred, though, we should open ourselves up to the idea of an Australian-style pub. A desegregated place where neither kids nor adults have to sacrifice the ageless pleasure of being themselves — with chips.

Dad Mark holds his giggling daughter upside down in a pub in Northcote
Mark and his 2-year-old daughter Maeve play at the Peacock Hotel pub in Northcote

Lesley Suter is Eater’s travel editor. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young children.
Fred Siggins is a bartender, writer, and drinks expert from Melbourne, Australia.
Jacinta Moore is a photographer and stylist based in Melbourne, Australia.
Fact checked by Dawn Mobley
Copy edited by Rachel P. Kreiter

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