Friday, January 14, 2011

Perth's late night weekday scene - Malt Supper Club, and an encounter with Thomas Handy & the Bird

People love to rant on about how Perth is Dullsville, because there's nothing to do at night during the week.  My response is that you're not looking hard enough!  These places do exist.  While I agree that we could certainly do with a heck of a lot more late night amenities, the realist in me questions whether there is sufficient demand for these establishments to survive.

So I pop around to the recently opened Malt Supper Club at 10.30pm.  On Beaufort Street in Mount Lawley, just up the road from Cantina (north of Walcott Street).  Apparently it's owned by some well-known retired footy player, but I would have no idea who it was if I met him.  Nor would I care, other than to congratulate him on good taste and hiring some really good staff.

This place is lush.  Like Jay-Z said in Run This Town, all-black everything.  Two bars, one of them in a large back section where the live band plays on Friday nights and weekends.  For thursday night, we get a DJ.  But this guy spins chilled out remixes of some cool old-school tunes.  While the music is a bit loud for a half-deaf chap like me, it's still at a reasonable level, so you can have conversations without shouting.  There were however only 2 patrons there, and about 4 or 5 others came in while we were there.  This is what I worry about - that patronage of these establishments will not be enough to sustain the top shelf drinks collection and top quality staffing that they need to maintain standards.

We had a good chat to Dmitry behind the bar, since my mate Elliott is "industry", so to speak, and ended up drinking ... yes I can't believe it myself ... Kentucky rye whiskey.  But this was an epiphany for me.  This is not some cheap anti-freeze that the good ol' boys would be swigging while shooting up road signs at the levee.  This is unbelievably sublime.  Uncut, unfiltered, cask strength (at around 67% alc, or 127.5 proof).  Aged in new white oak for around 6.5 years, it's double distilled and only made in small batches each year.

This stuff is good - the nose was an amazingly beguiling mixture of honey on top, with an ephemeral yet persistent aroma of flowers, similar to the perfume my friend Anna was wearing earlier in the evening - Estee Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia.  The flavour was awesome.  Rich, almost unctuous mouthfeel set-off by the dryness of the high alcohol content.  More rich flavours, reminiscent of fruitcake, honey and something else so transcendent I can't describe it.  It gets even better when you cut it with some water - the transcendence takes over.  Or maybe it was the 2 glasses of wine I had earlier, or the bourbon with a dash of soda that Elliott made me drink ...  Anyway, this is really good stuff.  Apparently Jim Murray, world renowned whisky/whiskey expert, ranked this No.2 in the world, ahead of the finest Scottish single malts.

I used to be a single malt snob.  But not anymore.  Head down to the Malt Supper Club.  Make sure you check this out.  At $30 a shot, it's not cheap.  But you get what you pay for.

Afterwards, we head to the Bird in Northbridge.  It's on William Street, near the corner of Roe Street (just a few steps from Ezra Pound).  Now I know what you're thinking - it's not safe at night yadda yadda.  It's now 11.30pm, and there're still enough people walking around - that it's not crowded nor dead.  And a handful of cops strolling around too.  I never felt safer.

The Bird could not be more different to the Malt.  When you walk in, it's slightly grungy, with an eclectic handful of people milling around - punks with mohawks and studded leather, ageing ravers, hipsters, Gen Y-ers ... the whole range.  Heavy drum and bass beats are belted out by the DJ on the relatively empty dancefloor, and I think - that's sad, this place is not busy either.  But then we walk out the back, into a completely different world.  A large, rustic courtyard set with couches and benches is completely packed out with people just chilling, drinking and chatting.  No rowdy boisterous drunken behaviour.  Just people have a good time!  We find some arse space on a ledge and settle in.  Elliott starts chatting to a group next to us, and I have a chat with Tania, who's just returned from living in Luxembourg and has a Masters in Luxury Services & Management from Monaco.  It is so refreshing to talk to someone who knows what I mean when I crap on about experiential luxury.  There were a couple of land developers from Karratha - Jacinta and Ben - sitting next to us that we had a good chat to.  Jacinta even bought me a drink! These are the kind of people who come to the Bird.  Jacinta - I owe you a drink.  Remind me if we bump into each other again.

Now this is the kind of place I can hang in.  Sadly, due to liquor licensing laws, the place had to shut at midnight.  Judging from the vibe, everyone would have been happy carrying on for at least another hour, and at least half would have stayed till 2am.  There was no element of dodgy or antisocial behaviour evident - quite the opposite, in fact.  So there is absolutely no justification to make this place close late.

If we want Perth, and indeed Northbridge, to become more vibrant, and accommodate more late-night options, forcing everything to close early is not the answer.  That is an act of throwing out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. We need to make it easier for fantastic establishments like the Bird and the Malt Supper Club to thrive, and to allow them to give their customers what they want.  Of course, we also need to counterbalance this against the need to maintain public safety - I certainly don't have all the answers, but if we put our heads together, I'm sure we can come up with something that's not necessarily perfect (don't fool yourself - perfection is a pipe dream), but rather something that strikes a good balance and works.

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