Rambling old-school pub and bistro Lock'n'Load’s reopening as slick, upmarket gin bar Covent Garden is about as illustrative of West End’s rapidly transforming face as it gets. And while you hope the suburb will always retain some of its relaxed alternative character, the demand for a bit of luxury is certainly there.
As bar manager Mathew Fearnley quickly found out. Within one week of the soft opening, he’s already had to call around to the venue’s boutique Australian gin suppliers to restock some of the 130 plus varieties.
“No one really knows we’re open yet, the first week was just to give us some practice on the tills and see what’s selling,” Fearnley says. “But we’re selling more of everything than we really imagined. There’s a huge demand for Australian gin, specifically.”
Fearnley says that gin’s rising popularity in Australia is down to the fact that it’s not climate dependant. “As opposed to brown spirits, which need to be kept at cooler temperatures, the uniqueness of gin comes from the botanicals added,” he says. “In Australia we’ve got a country full of flora to play with.”
Some of these plants and herbs can be found at the bar and restaurant’s little native garden adjoining the fairy-light-illuminated courtyard. The overwhelming feeling here is of lushness – not only from the plants growing out back but those curling around the light fixtures and stencilled on the back bar, the menus and even the bathroom ceiling.
The food menu focuses on modern share plates – tasters of tender squid, chicken terrine with pickles; bigger meals of lamb shoulder with yoghurt and lemon myrtle, or pork cheek, sherry and nashi pear.
The bar is fully stocked with your other favourite spirits, wines and a selection of beers on tap, but gin is the star here. Look out for the tags on each bottle that tell the bartender which kind of tonic and garnish goes best with that gin when you order it in the elaborate “Spanish style”. Don’t worry, traditionalists – you can still get a classic G&T with any of the gins for a bit less cash.
142 Boundary Street, West End
(07) 3844 0142