These days pubs are comfortable places for a drink and a feed, but for most of Australia’s colonial history, they’ve performed far more vital roles. The first public houses opened a mere eight years after the First Fleet landed, and continued to spring up wherever settlers and industry went – gold-mining areas in particular. In addition to acting as post offices and general stores, these early pubs were the only place for people travelling cross-country to stay overnight.
Though many pubs have retained the word “hotel” in their title, fewer and fewer are actually offering lodging nowadays. A bit of a shame, really. It’s a novel and intimate experience, staying at a pub. The staff call you by name, and you don’t have to summon a cab at the end of the night.
These country pubs are keeping the old traditions alive, and deserve a spot on your next road trip itinerary. Some offer characteristically affordable accommodation and are holiday destinations in their own right, while others are just worthwhile stop-offs for lunch, on your way elsewhere.
Here are three great country pubs worth spending a night at.
The Royal Standard Hotel, Toora
This year the Royal is celebrating two things: its 130th birthday, and a $50,000 grant from Airbnb that funded a renovation of the upstairs rooms and common areas. Locals Amy Robson and Steve Swan have only been running the place for two years, but already it seems to be in safe hands for the future. That’s important in this small, 600-person dairy-farming community, set among Gippsland’s rolling, unusually green hills.
The pub is small, and the attractive rooms have brand new beds and shared bathrooms. Apart from sleeping, though, you’re not going to spend a bunch of time upstairs. All the fun is down below, where locals shoot pool and get into oysters, steaks and local fish. When the sun’s out, the big, rambling beer garden (emphasis on garden) is a pleasant spot to soak up the country vibes and surrounding natural beauty.
Toora is handily located near the entrance to Wilsons Prom, which we probably don’t have to tell you is home to some of Victoria’s most breathtaking scenery and an abundance of wildlife. The town is also a 15-minute drive from Agnes Falls, the highest single-span falls in the state, at 59 metres. The 68-kilometre Great Southern Rail Trail also passes through the town on its way from Leongatha to Welshpool. If you can’t fit your bikes in the car, you can rent some in the nearby town of Meeniyan.
69–71 Stanley Street, Toora
(03) 5686 2475
The Royal Standard on Airbnb
$70 a night
The Wandi Pub, Wandiligong
For many travellers, this convivial little spot is a welcome stop-off before they ascend Mount Hotham, Mount Buffalo or Falls Creek. But we reckon it’s also a destination in its own right.
The pub has two neat rooms that sleep two and four guests, respectively. The thriving town of Bright is 10 minutes down the road and Myrtleford another 20 past that. Along the way, you’ll pass Bright Brewery, Gapsted Wines, Feathertop Winery and numerous other spots ideal for whiling away an afternoon in the sun.
Of course, you could also do that at a weathered picnic table in the Wandi Pub’s leafy beer garden, where local bands play on weekends. The pub’s been standing since 1864 and still looks the part (check out the bar, made from salvaged corrugated iron, tree trunks and railway sleepers), but publicans Tim Heuchan and Paddy Subacius have modernised where it counts – with the food and drink.
The wine list is dominated by locals such as Pizzini, La Zona and Billy Button, while nine beer taps pour local craft beers from the likes of Bridge Road Brewers. The menu includes tacos, a parma and made with local Milawa chicken, and native bush tomato snags with beans, mash and onion gravy.
580 Morses Creek Road, Wandiligong
(03) 5750 1050
Wandi Pub on Airbnb
From $95 a night
Dargo Hotel, Dargo
The Dargo Hotel’s rough-hewn log cabins with corrugated iron ceilings are a singular proposition in a world of brick, plasterboard and render. To stay here is to be transported back to another time, albeit with showers, mini fridges, electric kettles, lights and heating.
Likewise, the pub itself, established in 1898, feels like a proper frontier boozer. Every wall is covered in eclectic memorabilia: an illuminated neon sign for Stihl Power Tools, AFL premiership posters, rusted saws, hundreds of stubbie holders and an entire dirtbike. This isn’t to everyone’s taste, but you couldn’t accuse this pub of snubbing its constituency of timber workers and cattle farmers, who frequent the pub for its enormous steaks and parmas.
Dargo, located in a narrow valley in the Victorian Alps, is one of the state’s most isolated and self-sufficient towns. It’s a fair way from the clusters of wineries and cafes that service the busier parts of Gippsland. And that peace and quiet is really the reason to come here. The town is handily located halfway between Dinner Plain and Briagolong State Forest, making it an excellent base to discover the area’s natural beauty.
Lind Avenue, Dargo
(03) 5750 1050
Dargo Hotel on Airbnb
From $130 a night
Here's three country pubs worth dining at when travelling through. If you feel like settling in, we’ve included options for accommodation in the area.
Tinamba Hotel, Tinamba
Located 90 minutes south of Dargo, the Tinamba Hotel swaps the hard-yakka decor for an elegant European feel. There are bentwood chairs, comfy Chesterfields, Renaissance-style paintings and even a grand piano.
There’s a serious epicurean spirit here. The pub has its own gardener, who tends the attached market garden of fruit, vegetables and herbs. The table water comes from a natural spring that runs under the building. And while the restaurant menu does contain a (fancy) parma, it’s outshone by entries such as 14-hour Wagyu cheek and citrus-cured Atlantic salmon.
The wine list places a lot of emphasis on local vignerons, and the pub also sells Maffra Cheese Company cheese to take home.
4–6 Tinama-Seaton Road, Tinama
(03) 5145 1484
Find Tinamba accommodation on Airbnb
The Avoca Hotel, Avoca
The clean, well-maintained facade of the Avoca Hotel makes it clear just how much pride publicans Ian Urquhart and Alison Chapman take in their establishment, which they last renovated in 2010. Past this double-storey wall of red brick with dark-grey accents, you’ll find a snug public bar with vintage tiles and chalkboard menus.
The adventurous menu hops around the globe, incorporating Japanese and Mexican flavours into European-style platings. To start, there’s jalapeno, cheddar and potato croquettes; tempura baby corn with togarashi mayo; and smoked eel with horseradish cream. Larger choices include Mexican braised short rib, a Thai duck curry, and a 12-hour lamb shoulder.
Where the Avoca Hotel really excels, though, is with wine. The 200-strong cellar has won numerous awards over the years for being globally informed, yet locally proud and affordable. There are close to 20 wines served by the glass and local producers such as Mount Langi Ghiran, Best’s Great Western and Mitchell Harris are well represented. And if you’re into sake and shochu, Urquhart also has plenty of options for you too.
115 High Street, Avoca
(03) 5465 3018
Find Avoca accommodation on Airbnb
The Ocean View Hotel, Kilcunda
Anyone who’s driven through Kilcunda, near Phillip Island, remembers the view. Gippsland’s undulating green paddocks run right up to the ocean, which sparkles like a jewel as you roll into the elevated main strip. The Ocean View, affectionately known as “The Killy”, is one of about five non-residential buildings that make up the little village, but it’s an imposing one.
On the front deck, punters alternate sips of frosty craft beer with sips of salty sea air. Inside, grizzled dairy farmers shoot pool and get into hearty pub classics such as chicken parmas, calamari and steak sandwiches. The menu’s Central and South American dishes, courtesy of a Cuban head chef, are more surprising. Look out for Cuban-style pork spare ribs and Argentinian barbeque chicken. The bar’s impressive tap list includes beers from Holgate, Two Birds, Cascade and Bulmers. The cellar champions local vineyards, including Dirty Three, Cannibal Creek, Bass River Winery and Lightfoot & Sons. Whatever you choose to drink, it tastes that bit better with the view of Bass Straight’s steely water stretching to the horizon.