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Small bar review: My local RSL

Bryant Apolonio thinks you’ve probably never heard of it

The hottest place in town

The hottest place in town

I know this great place just off York Street.

It’s behind a record store and you have to walk down a flight of stairs. It’s decorated with band posters and Sonic Youth memorabilia. I’m not going to talk about that though. I’m going to talk, instead, about my local RSL.

My local RSL has no Urbanspoon profile. It has no Yelp profile. There is one review on TrueLocal and it’s a 3.5 which is reasonable. My local RSL is based in a building you’d describe as “squat,” wedged between two bigger ones and sort of covered by a tree. It faces the IGA. There are gambling facilities and a strict policy of Having A Shirt But No Hat.

I’ve only been to this place once before writing this review and it was a long, long time ago when smoking was allowed in pubs. There was a corner of the room that was sequestered and far more dimly lit than the rest of the place. Ten-year old me – who ate the schnitzel but not the green beans – could only imagine what shady escapades those vets could’ve gotten up to behind that IKEA partition. Now I know.

The place, sans tobacco, is exactly how I remember it a decade later. Still dimly lit, solemn, sort of oppressive. The food is cheap – almost wholly meat based – and the menu now boasts some pan-Asian cuisine (fried rice w/ ham, a nondescript curry), catering to more metropolitan tastes. There’s beer. And there’s wine. There’s cider, though I imagine it’s frowned upon.

I grab a plate of chips and whatever’s on tap and sit. It’s 6:30pm on a Friday and the place, inasmuch as it can be abuzz, is abuzz. There are people in groups, and there are solitary patrons. Everyone is three times my age or more. The people sitting by themselves are uniformly despondent but those in groups seem to glow. Someone makes a joke and they all explode in a laughter which is slow to fade.

The waiter arrives with my food and I ask him if the place is always this busy. He says it’s probably because it’s the ANZAC weekend and then asks me, amicably, what I’m doing here. I say I’m writing an article. He looks upset. He passes me a coaster – which announces its support for the South Sydney Rabbitohs – then leaves. The chips are okay.

There are two other pubs in Botany and they’re both called “hotels”: one is the ‘Captain Cook’ which promises topless waitresses on Fridays and enough TVs to watch The Game. The other is the ‘Waterworks’ which is surprisingly busy at ~12pm on weekdays. It’s full of tradies coming in from a night shift and, inexplicably, small children. They buttress the fish ‘n’ chip place, and two ATMs which may be a business tactic. And yet, my local RSL seems to do well enough against this competition. It’s been there for as long as I can remember, with an atmosphere as unchanging as the sea.

I’m not really encouraging you to pay a visit. I honestly wouldn’t go that far. But if you’re tired of overpriced cocktails, bespectacled art-school drop-outs, esoteric beats, and intentionally gaudy décor, well, you’re in luck. You won’t find it here.

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