“It’s been a long time coming but it’s finally roaring back to life,” Sam George, general manager of the Alexandria Hotel, tells Broadsheet over the buzz of a sun-drenched Sunday afternoon crowd. He’s overlooking Backyard at The Alex, the resurrection of the much-loved Alexandria institution that locals have been looking forward to for more than half a decade.
Back in 2015, plans to bulldoze the 150-year-old pub and replace it with an apartment block were unveiled. The Alexandria Residents’ Action Group launched Save The Alex – a campaign to find a buyer who would save the beloved pub. Cue Merivale owner Justin Hemmes, who swooped in and purchased it, sight unseen, for $10 million.
“The community is so excited – they’ve been waiting patiently for eight years to get their local back,” George says.
The new Alex is centred around an outdoor family-and-dog-friendly beer garden, with food trucks, a bar in a converted shipping container, a basketball court and live music.
“We really want people to feel like they’re spending the day in their mate’s backyard,” George says.
And that’s exactly the vibe (if you pretend for a moment that your mate is rich enough to cater for several hundred people in their backyard). Kids jostle with their parents on the basketball court, Evan Dando wails over the stereo, and dogs – lots of dogs – sit dutifully beside their tinnie-sinking owners. It feels like we’re all here to listen to the Hottest 100 countdown, but maybe that’s because so many of the men in the crowd look like Tim Rogers. Hell, one might even be Tim Rogers.
There’s festoon lighting above the long communal tables, a DJ playing out of a hut, vines creeping up the soaring brick wall of the ambulance service next door, and legacy graffiti mingling with commissioned murals from Beastman and Fintan Magee. When it rains there’s a November Rain-esque evacuation indoors, where the four walls of the classic pub provide shelter and the camaraderie between wet patrons only increases.
The challenges that come with the building’s heritage listing are one reason it’s lain dormant for so many years. Care has been taken to preserve the beautiful bones of the old boozer: the decaying carpet was ripped up to reveal original tiles, and the bartops and wood-panelled doors have been salvaged too. The “old man” pub features one of the only remaining carousel island bars in Sydney – an ideal spot to perch on an orange-vinyl bar stool and watch the game. The Alex has long been a favourite among Sydney Swans fans and remains a Swans-supporting venue, with a huge outdoor screen above the container bar set to be unveiled in time for summer sports viewing. A ping-pong room is on the cards, along with spaces intended to accommodate local mothers’ groups and other community meetings.
The kitchen has opened with a small selection of Merivale hits, starting with house-made corn chips with guacamole, morita chillies, roasted habanero and salsa macha. And Dan Hong’s cult-favourite El Loco hotdog is sure to pull a crowd of diehard devotees – it’s loaded with pico de gallo, jalapenos, mustard relish and a snowstorm of queso fresco.
“It’s going to be a rotating menu of Merivale’s best hits, with the double cheeseburger from Coogee, chicken wings, and tacos coming soon. We want the Merivale Kitchen offering to complement what the food trucks bring.”
There are currently two food trucks parked in the garden. The husband-and-wife duo behind Wholly Schnit are making schnitzel burgers, schnitties with chips and gravy, and Jaeger schnitzels. “The Jaeger is selling twice as fast as everything else,” says owner John O’Kane.
Then there’s Firepop, a family-run business specialising in yakitori-style skewers, or “pops”. Alina Van and Raymond Hou have taken the food truck concept and elevated it. Expect a selection of yakitori that includes Blackmore full-blood Wagyu and the bonjiri – a labour-intensive skewer requiring the tails of three chickens and prepared with junmai sake and Olsson’s “wet” grey sea salt. Appellation rock oysters are dry-shucked to order, topped with house-made lacto-fermented chilli, and served on smoked applewood chips with a handcrafted oyster fork inspired by Aboriginal fishing spears. Yep, classic Aussie pub food.
The fun spills over into Eveleigh Green, which sits adjacent to the beer garden. “You can grab a burger or a skewer, a takeaway tinnie from the container bar, rent finska or giant Jenga, and sit in the park while the kids play football,” George says. “Then come back to watch the Swans game or listen to the DJ.”
“We think of the space as less of a pub or a venue and more of a space for community gatherings. A place to come for something to eat, to meet friends, and just hang out like you would in a backyard.”
Backyard at The Alex
35 Henderson Road, Alexandria
(02) 9114 7340
Wed to Sat 12pm–12am