Thirsty Thursdays: Pizza, Pulp and Winning the Karaoke in Melbourne

Thirsty Thursdays: Pizza, Pulp and Winning the Karaoke in Melbourne

Its almost too obvious doing all the major cities when you’re a traveller or a nomad, but somehow you end up in them anyway. In China I done Beijing, in Belarus Minsk and in Australia Melbourne. I like to get a mix of the big cities and the random smaller settlements however. But yet Melbourne is where all the people are. And many people together mean parties and big nights out, which are fairly common in Sydney and Melbourne (and not quite so common in Parramatta, Devonport and Canberra).

In Melbourne we chose the Urban Central hostel to stay in. We knew little about it until we arrived, and it turned out to be a hostel with its own bar and was very well organised, running events and basing itself and its reputation on a decent social life. We had noticed the same trait in a previous hostel in Sydney’s King’s Cross area called Chilli Blue Backpackers Hostel.

On arrival at the Urban Central, there was a poster up in reception for a “Tuesday Night Pub Crawl.” The cost of the night would be $20, and that included dinner, transport and four drinks. Believe me, in Australia that is good value. In the UK it translates as £11, I don’t think you could find 4 drinks, a meal and transport for that price in the UK. The drinks were in bars and the meal in a restaurant. There were also $500 worth of prizes to be won that night, but we didn’t pay much attention to that bit, for now. So we were in for it. That was myself, Neil and Daniel.

We had also met a lady from Norfolk in England called Gemma and we got her into the pub crawl idea as well. Then on the Monday night in Melbourne there was a “meet and greet” session in the sociable hostel, which meant a free beer and getting to know a lot of the newcomers to the hostel. There we met quite a few others, mainly British people. There was Lynsey (from Wales), Hayley (from North East England), Paul (from York in England) and Ali (also English). The first 3 were all up for the pub crawl the following night, sadly Ali couldn’t make it as she already had a dinner date with a friend in city.

So we all paid our $20 to reception at the hostel and were told to meet in the Urban Central Bar at 6 pm, on the Tuesday night. Apparently this hostel organise this fortnightly on a Tuesday. We immediately met up with all the other pub crawlers in the hostel bar, where we got our first beer, a middy of Bearing’s Ale, the house beer in the hostel. It certainly wasn’t the nicest beer I’ve ever had, but it was included in the $20 cover price. There I met Matt, from England and Stephanie who had just got off a plane from New Zealand. Stephanie was from Montreal in Canada and her native languages were French and Spanish, given that she is actually Venezuelan. So for her English is actually her third language.

There were a few other Canadians in the hostel, including a guy called Justin, a pretty well-pierced lady and two other guys. They were all wearing hats for the evening, some of them free Heineken straw hats they got for free in a beer promotion. Then into the hostel bar walks Gerry, the hilarious guy that drove our bus and was our tour guide earlier that day for our “Neighbours” trip. Gerry drove us all the way to Blackburn (Errinsborough) and Pin Oak Court (Ramsay Street). Gerry was to be our sober driver again for the pub crawl!!

We quickly finished our beers and straight into the plain white bus (this time without the Neighbours graffiti on the side) to be escorted to what was now our second bar of the evening, and indeed more of a bar/restaurant as this was the bar that we would have our dinner in. We crossed the Yarra River and it was still daylight when we pulled up outside number 562 Flinders Street (obviously the same street that contains the famous arty Flinders Street Station). This was a bar called Bertha Brown.

Bertha Brown is famous for its pizza menu – they have international pizzas, where they try to brand a nation in a pizza. They have 14 types of pizza available and I grabbed a menu list as a souvenir. Its quite a novelty and a rare ideas they’ve thought of here. I like it. We had already ordered our pizzas though, back at the hostel, when we were given the choice so that they would be ready to bake once we arrived in Bertha Browns. I ordered a Spanish pizza, just because I liked the sound of the toppings – Chorizo, Goat’s Cheese, Tomatoes and Roasted Red Peppers.

Neil chose the German option, which has Bacon, Potatoes, Garlic and Sauerkraut on it. There was even an Irish option, which had champ, smashed potatoes, bacon, green onion, cheese and chives on it. There was no Northern Irish option. If there was I’d have suggested Coleraine Mature Cheddar, Comber Spuds, Scallions and Cookstown Sausage. I’ll have to try that un next time I’m in the wee six. Will get my Mum to help me, as I don’t know how till make pizza bases. That will be the new one – Northern Irish Pizza.

There wasn’t and English, Scottish or Welsh option either, and I pondered over what they could have put on them. A Welsh pizza with lamb, leek and cheese from the valleys. An English pizza contained beans, peas, beef and yorkshire pudding, with Wensleydale Apricot cheese. For Scotland you could have had haggis, egg, Aberdeen Angus beef and obviously some type of Scottish cheese. I really liked the idea of it. They have found a unique niche market there. And Bertha Brown’s ain’t even expensive. The pizzas range from $5 to $8 – you really can eat out for a decent price in parts of Australia if you’re clever.

Some people complain that Australia is expensive – they obviously shop, eat, drink and stay at the wrong places. I find it easy to earn and save money here, whilst enjoying a good lifestyle. $5 for a pizza in a bar is less than £3 and there are no bars in the UK where you can get it that cheap surely! So the orders were made and gradually the pizzas began arrive on the table. 6 Spanish pizzas the waitress shouts, and I have mine in front of me begging to be eaten. They smelt good!

On entrance into Bertha Browns we also got a voucher for jugs of beer for $10, just over £5, which is very good value. You get almost 3 pints for that. You’d struggle to get 2 pints for that nowadays in the UK, apart from maybe in Wetherspoons. We also got one beer in there as part of the $20 pub crawl charge. The pizzas looked great and we were all ready to devour them.

The Canadian lady to my right, whose name I actually forget, had a Vegetarian Australian Pizza and Neil to my left had a German Pizza, so we decide to swap a piece each, meaning I tried three nationalities of pizza. I still preferred my own choice of Spanish anyway. The beer was flowing and to my right, ‘Team Canada’ as I called them were buying loads of the $10 jugs of beer. It was Boag’s Draught, a Tasmanian Lager. The couple opposite us where from Birmingham in England – Chris and Louise. we got talking football and Chris was a big Aston Villa fan.

The only previous big Villa fan I had met was my old school mate Colin Walker. We used to watch videos of Dalian Atkinson and Dean Saunders together back in 1992 – 1993 – the year that Aston Villa or Norwich City should have won the Premier League, but Manchester United took the title. Talk of that season was one of the things me and Chris chatted about. They were a really nice couple, and sadly I don’t think I got any email addresses for them, I like to keep in touch with people. But I guess you sometimes meet so many people that its hard to do that.

Neil chipped in with the $10 jug buying and between me, Louise and Chris we were sharing them. $2.50 each for a beer is pretty good – not even £1.50. I must also mention the decor of the Bertha Brown bar. It was all very brown and worn. Old fashioned tables and chairs and a dark appeal to it. It was also fairly quiet on this Tuesday night. I’m not sure what the idea behind the bar is, or who on earth Bertha Brown actually is though!

It was also in Bertha Brown’s that I got talking to Gerry about Northern Irish football, I think it was his Aunty or Sister who used to live right by Windsor Park and Gerry himself used to attend matches. He was the same age as me, at 29, though he had lived in Australia for 6 years! What was even more surreal was that he nonchalantly threw into conversation “my cousin used to play for Northern Ireland.” And guess what, there I was in Bertha Brown’s bar in central Melbourne drinking with none other than the cousin of Anton Rogan!!

Anton Rogan had played for Oxford United and Glasgow Celtic during his career, and was a regular Northern Ireland international when I started going to watch my country. I couldn’t believe it! This was all happening in the same two day spell where we had met Roger Federer (Swiss Tennis Player) and Ned Parker (Neighbours Character). The pub crawl was in full swing and was about to get a bit more lively.

One of the guys from the bar came over and asked if we would all be up for a shot each for $4. Initially I wouldn’t have been (in years gone by, I’d have drank a lot more), but everyone else was, as long as the shot wasn’t Vodka I would do it. So we paid our 4 dollars and the bar man lined up the shots on the bar. I went for Tequilla with salt and lemon. We all necked the shots and on that note, we left Bertha Brown’s for our 3rd pub of the pub crawl. It was now dark.

We got back on the bus and drove to a side street which reminded me of somewhere in Gravesend, Kent (where ironically I went with Neil to have a Chinese all you can eat night back in 2004). But gaping on the corner was a poky, traditional looking pub, an Irish pub actually called Bridie O’Reilly’s. This was a karaoke night for that pub, and when we arrived the karaoke was in full swing, but the pub wasn’t packed out till we walked in!

The song that played when we got in was “Down Under” by Men At Work, the song that had become my anthem for life in Australia and already it was a good night. We had a fake Euro Dollar note handed to us each on entrance into the pub, and this was to claim another of our drinks for the night (as part of the $20 charge). I opted for a Tiger Beer, as Carlsberg was the alternative and that to me is one of the worst beers in the world. I went up and got my name down for karaoke as well. I opted, as I often do, for Common People by Pulp. The song got to number 2 in the UK charts back in 1995, and in the end was the highest ever chart position for a single by Pulp. It was beaten to number 1 by a Michael Jackson song and became an anthem for Britpop.

There were quite a few people on before me though, including Stephanie who did “Hey Big Spender” and ‘Team Canada’ who did “Because I Got High”, giving a new and vibrant feel to a 9 year old song which had been forgotten. It was my first time doing karaoke in Australia, and the first time since being in the Beatles Bar with Natalja in Kuala Lumpur some 4 months previous. A few more songs passed me by and I was standing over at the side on my own with my beer, when a guy came over and said “what you wearing that top for? i bet youre not Australian” to me. It was said in such a rude manner that I was disgusted by him and it had threatened to ruin my night.

He turned out to be an ex-English guy just finished work in an office and in the bar for a drink, yet having a go at me cos I was wearing a blue and white Hawaiian T-Shirt. I went up to Daniel and told him about this guy who had pissed me off and that I was going to leave and go back to the hostel before I even had a chance to sing karaoke. On that moment, (and for whatever reason fate played a part) the guy calls up “Jonny” to sing the next song, so there I was. Fired up. On it. I stormed up with my beer admiring the worn comfy carpet and ready to launch a totally out of era and ancient lost classic song to a pub full of Aussies and Backpackers.

I grabbed the microphone. “This one’s dedicated to the wanker in the posh suit and tie at the back” shouts me, pointing out clearly the guy who had fired me up. “It wouldn’t hurt to be friendly once in a while mate – you’ll never live like common people” and on that moment Jarvis Cocker’s voice had been replaced by mine. I could tell only the British amongst us knew the song…it didn’t matter because she came from Greece and had a thirst for knowledge.

I launched straight in, suddenly remembering how big a Pulp and Jarvis Cocker fan I really was back then. I owned both copies of the single, a black cover and a white cover one. “…and in 30 seconds time she said…I wanna live like common people”, and from Jarvis Cocker’s love affair with a Greek student and her desire to “fit in” with the commoners, there we had it. A pub once stood chatting and enjoying their drinks, now with no option but to turn and watch me reminisce on glory days by Pulp.

“Australian Dollars you’re so fucking funny” I said, changing a lot of the original lyrics to fit the mood. I did all the Jarvis moves from their Top of The Pops performance, which was comical in itself. Supermarket trolleys lined the stage. Here my props were a microphone, the audience and hand movements. “I caught her eye” I said placing my hand over my I. “Smoke some fags and place some pool” I imitated a human doing those very things, as I did when the line about roaches climbing the wall came round.

Pointing out a guy not watching me to the right of the “stage” I went over to him and urged him to “wanna live like common people.” In the instrumental bit half way through, I again dedicated it to “the guy in the blazer at the back. he knows who he is” whilst putting the microphone over my head. Apparently Gerry and Patrick (the bar man from the hostel) had come back in from a smoke just to watch me as they could hear and see it from the street.

It was nice to be entertaining again. Pointing at everyone I yelled into the final chorus “Sing along with the common people” and looking at an older Australian guy in front of me, I had to engage him. Pointing at his beer and trying to give him the microphone “sing along and it might just get you through” I suggested before shaking his hand and dreaming it all up again as the chorus faded out and the short Britpop song had gone. “Did you know that only Michael Jackson beat that to a UK number one back in 1995?” I challenged to the DJ and Karaoke Organiser in front of the small crowd. “I did not know that” he said.

Then came the big surprise. Gerry and Patrick came over, interrupting the whole scenario of events for just a moment and shouted “We have a winner!”, and on that note I was back up shaking hands with Gerry and getting handed a brown envelope. I had won the karaoke competition before it was even over! Gerry had decided there was no way any one could have topped my performance. Of course the most surprised person of all was me. I presumed nobody would have watched me, nobody would know the song, and nobody would care. It had been the opposite. I had made some people and myself smile.

I won a trip to the Great Ocean Road! Which was ironic and a pity as in the end I could never have used my winning prize! That was because I had already booked my boat to Tasmania for 3 days later and for the following 2 days that intervened, I had already booked a car with 3 other guys to travel the Great Ocean Road ourselves anyway. The winning prize was worth about $250 and meant that I just had to contribute $40 towards the trip by Bunyip Tours and could get a full day trip guided tour all the way from Melbourne to the Great Ocean Road and back. But we had everything already booked. I just hadn’t thought there would be a prize, or that I could win a karaoke competition in an Irish Pub in Melbourne. Stranger things haven’t happened.

(Unbeknown to me, Daniel Evans and Lynsey Edwards had moved my camera into video mode and videoed almost the entire thing! For them I am most grateful as I can re-live how fired up I really was that night.)

Once my performance ended it was time to shake hands with “John” who was the guy I had dedicated the song to, the guy who slagged off my attire. Ironic that a guy in a suit and tie slags off a shabby traveler wearing a cheap T-shirt and combat trousers. Who was the common person now? Time for another $5 pint of Tiger Beer, a photo of the County Down emblem and some short admiration of the decor of this particular Irish pub then it was time to watch the others sing.

The pick of them was Gerry and Lynsey singing Joe Cocker’s “Love Lifts Us Up Where We Belong”, a classic and Lynsey took second prize in the karaoke competition, winning a trip she could go on – down to Wilson’s point in Victoria – the southernmost tip of mainland Australia. Before we left the bar, there was time for me to get up and duet with Anton Rogan’s cousin Gerry. We sang Oasis – Champagne Supernova and it ended on a mellow note, “where we you while we were getting high?”, perhaps I was wrong back in 1997. Maybe that song was the culminating moment of the Oasis career, rather than my personal favourite “Stand By Me.”

On that note we were back in the bus, hoping to go to another pub, but instead we were offered our final pub crawl beer of the night back in the Urban Central bar. Ali had now turned up from her meal, and from then on we decided to do our own pub crawl, though it was after 12.30 and many people doubted the fact that we would get in anywhere. “Come on this is Melbourne, second largest city in this continent!” I said. Lets go. And out we went across the bridge again back to the north side of the Yarra River.

Chris knew of a bar there called the U Bar. And sure enough it was open, wasn’t too busy and they let us all in. In there I had a bottle of VB. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. So when in Victoria, drink Victoria Bitter. We got some seats in there and had some more chats and the pub crawl had now stretched itself to its fifth bar. Neil and I laughed at this, as years ago our pub crawls would have to have more than 10 bars in them, and we would normally do 5 bars in the first 2 hours. The pub crawl had been running for 7 hours now. This bar was quite trendy and different, reminding me of a certain bar on a hilly street in Bristol.

They also did Goon wine in there for $3 a glass. As tempting as the cheap price was, I vowed never to try the stuff again. And I havent had Goon wine for almost 5 months now. Thank God. From U Bar our hostel was pretty close by and we had to be up early to check out, collect our car and head onto the Great Ocean Road, so the pub crawl was almost over. However we passed the Casino on the way back and that brought the sixth bar on the crawl on board as we popped in there.

It was almost our local actually. I chose an Ouzo and Coke in there. Acropolis Ouzo it said on the receipt. $7 dollars for the drink. A bit pricy, but it finished off the evening nicely. It wasn’t the rum and Coke that Jarvis Cocker had ordered in the Pulp song. But it was a Greek drink, which seemed to fit and bring the evening back to Pulp yet again…

I’ll dedicate my win to Jarvis Cocker. “She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge”

What Was It? – Melbourne Pub Crawl organised by Urban Central

Nationalities Who Went – Northern Irish, Irish, English, Welsh, Canadian, French, German, Venezuelan

Songs Sang – Pulp – Common People and Oasis – Champagne Supernova (both 1995)

Bars Visited –

1. Urban Central Bar

2. Bertha Brown

3. Bridie O’Reilly’s

4. Urban Central Bar

5. U Bar

6. Crown Casino Sports Bar

Where We Stayed – Urban Central Backpackers Hostel, 334 City Road, Southbank, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 3006. 1800 631 288.







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