If you’re planning to open a venue in Melbourne, you’ll only get through planning so long as you commit to a phrase writ in neon. Rustica Canteen’s helpfully reads: “We got what you knead”; Go Go Bar hopefully suggests “Lonely for You Only”, and Bluetrain wades in with the naff “Creativity Takes Courage/Courage is Creativity”. At Hats and Tatts – South Melbourne’s new frat-themed dive bar – the sign reads, in bright blue lights, “Derelicte My Balls”. No doubt you get the reference.
But if you thought you knew what you were in for, think again, because Hats and Tatts is no mere Animal House. Founded by Jason Chan, part owner of West Winds Gin, and long-time hotelier in both Australia and NZ, the bar is a testing ground for the WA-based distillery.
There’s a 450-strong booze library with around 150 bourbon and ryes; the bartenders have all done stints in the best venues in Melbourne and Edinburgh, and there’s some real scientific drink-mixing gear. “Although the idea is a frat house, we’ve got some high-end cocktail equipment,” says Chan. “We make our own cocktails on draught, we’ve got some micro-distilling equipment. There’s a nitro kit and Co2.”
The carbonating equipment, for instance, makes a crazy fizzy negroni, which is lifted by acid and effervescence. There are also Espresso Martinis on tap. Beers are predictably American, with Coors and Sierra Nevada’s Hop Hunter on tap, and a broad range of unusual brews – served only in cans.
The menu, meanwhile, is put together by ex-Touche Hombré chef Nick Willard. The fried chicken is brined for three days in salty buttermilk; the Faux Boy po boy uses oyster mushrooms instead of oysters; and the Rueben Sandwich has been consolidated into Rueben croquettes. “We don’t really want to call it dude food,” says Chan. “We pulled it apart and put it back together.”
But no matter how adult deconstructed dude food sounds, Hats and Tatts is still a place with balls to the wall. There’s pinball in the corner, Streetfighter and Top Gun posters, and a ‘90s teenager’s dream collection of baseball caps. Springsteen is singing and 99 Problems is about to come on. A Phil Collins track lingers. It’s best to go with it: “If you understand that silliness,” advises Chan, “You’ll understand what we’re about.”