A recap: late in 2022, the owners of Preston’s Hard Rubbish announced their plans to give the bar away for free, rather than sell it. Among my friends, at least, the plan was met with plenty of half-hearted joking about packing in careers in favour of bar ownership. As with real hard rubbish, the idea was more attractive than the actual practicalities.
For new owners Dusty Reid and Mercedes Zanker, though, the chance was too good not to take. “I was overseas and Mercedes messaged me,” Reid says. “We’d never really discussed [owning a bar] before because it was never something that was really possible.”
The hospo lifers and long-time Raccoon Club colleagues (plus friend Joe Lorback, who decided not to take up ownership in the end) made a shopping trolley-themed application video and got shortlisted. Hard Rubbish is a neighbourhood watering hole and punters were invited to crowd in and voice their opinions as the final candidates pitched themselves, town hall-style. Needless to say, Zanker and Reid got their bar.
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You can see why. Hardout, as the space has been rechristened, is endearing to those locals. It’s got the personality of the two new owners but it’s not a radical departure. “We wanted to keep the consistency of what this place is, which is a really awesome community, locals’ bar but with our own touch,” Zanker says.
The bar top has been replaced, the courtyard has a fresh set of tables and the walls are filled with the work of local artists, but there’s plenty more personal touches. Pickled veg (for snacking and to top Bloody Marys) comes specially made from friends at Dog Creek Growers in Wandin, while a huge jar of mixed, spiced pretzels and Nutri-Grain is Zanker’s mum’s recipe. “That’s nostalgic for me – when I was a kid I used to snack on that all the time,” Zanker says.
Drinks-wise, there’s five taps of beer with a standard Bodriggy draught around which IPAs, pales and red ales rotate. Wine is equally easy, with a handful of lighter options like Range Life fiano and Fin Wines pét-nat, while cocktails are house specials like the Agrin, which blends Kurdish arak from Bandesh Wine and Spirits with Marionette apricot brandy.
Drink in hand, stake out a spot in the sun and browse the small selection of books from Black Spark Cultural Centre in Northcote or, if you’re there a little later, catch a set by local DJs spinning vinyl in the front window.
Hardout is basically an unfussy spot for locals to sit at the bar and sip a pint while Reid and Zanker read out quiz questions from the paper. They’ve got their bar and they’re going to settle in slowly, although there is one eye on a (distant) future.