Review of Small Bars in Wollongong
A few months ago I published my first set of reviews for small bars in Wollongong. Six bars done over two nights. In that post, I promised to review some more with my trusty group of Old Chook researchers. You can read that first comprehensive review here.
Since then the group has grown. From three foundation members we now have five. This poses a few questions in regards to the reliability of our study. I have had to do some tricky statistical calculations to try and reduce any problems with our data. The total scores for all the bars have been moderated by calculating the raw score dividing by the number of participants and then multiplying the per person score by 4 to give a moderated value. Rough and ready perhaps, but OK for these purposes.
This review covers six more small bars in Wollongong. Red Square, His Boy Elroy, the Humber Bar (in early June); Howling Wolf, The Little Prince and The Bavarian (in early August) . We used the same scoring matrix we used in the other reviews.
June Session Reviews:
108 Keira Street
The Red Square is a vodka bar. We were there early, and as we have noticed before for this early time slot, the place was more or less empty. A few groups of office workers were having extended Friday after-work drinks. The vibe was friendly and relaxed.
The decor is dark with lots of bright neon lights on the bar itself while the rest of the lighting is very subdued – you could say it was dark! But we like that. Easy on the eyes and you don’t feel like you are in a supermarket. This bar won the prettiest bar competition for the night. The back-lighting behind the bottles and the matching labels were very effective.
The bare floorboards and bare walls made for a noisy interior although we all agreed the playlist was good. The music itself was not obtrusive and we liked the selection. They do have live music but we left before that started. While it was easy to get a seat, the seats themselves were basic unpadded stools. Despite being a vodka bar there was a good selection of other drinks and the prices very reasonable. They had some nice cocktails on offer. The food offerings were good and well priced, although you might find it tough to make a selection if you were vegetarian.
We would all go again. The service was friendly and efficient but there was little interaction.
BEST: Red Square offered good value for money for both their drinks and food menu with a good choice of offerings.
WORST: The seats. Sorry fellas but a cushion would be good!
His Boy Elroy.
Keira Street (in the shopping mall)
His Boy Elroy used to be in Globe Lane. I went there a few times at that location and remember it to be a hipster sort of place where neat beards would be de rigueur. Not now. The new His Boy Elroy would be best described as a sports bar. There were lots of TVs playing sports channels and sports related paraphernalia bedecking the walls. Even though it was relatively early – around 8:30 PM when we arrived, we had to wait for an inside table. We could get one outside but it was chilly and the outdoor heater not close enough to the available table.
As Old Chooks we felt very much out of place here, and while the bar staff were friendly and welcoming, the very obvious presence of security people was a bit off putting. The other customers were all at least half our age. HBE scored poorly in few areas. Firstly the toilet facilities. While clean and fragrant they are a long way away! As the bar is part of the shopping complex you actually have to go into the mall and find the toilets in there. Don’t leave it to the last minute is my advice!
There was a limited choice of food and drinks. Ten varieties of beers and only a choice of two whites and two red wines. It’s a burger joint so there are burgers and not much else on the food menu. We opted for loaded fries. The serving was very generous and they were tasty.
The music was described as loud doof-doof which made talking difficult. The one standout in the scoring was that we all agreed we would not go again.
This is not an Old Chooks Bar! If you are under 30 and looking for a place to hang out with friends, it would be a great place, but it’s not what we would look for in a good night out.
BEST: The food was reasonably priced and in generous portions.
WORST: The noise levels. TV on, Music On, People ON! Too much on!
The Humber Bar
226 Crown Street
Now, this was more like it. The Humber Bar is on three levels. It has plenty of room and each floor has a different atmosphere. We opted for the mezzanine level. There were only a few people there. It was more crowded upstairs, but as you should know by now crowds do not necessarily make a good Old Chooks’ night out! The Humber Bar has pleasant but minimalist decor. It has lounges around two sides of its triangular walls. The lighting is good, not too dark or bright and the volume of the music excellent. The food selection was impressive and at a good price. The drinks menu equally good and served in nice glassware. The bar staff were very friendly, with two people serving about ten people we did not have to wait at all and they were happy to chat.
Co-incidentally an impromptu drama unfolded in front of us. A 40-something man sitting at the bar cuddling a much younger woman. Another woman and her friend walked in. She yelled, he jumped, the younger woman disappeared and the friend spent the rest of the night consoling the older woman. Turns out the man’s wife had busted him with the “other woman”. Very dramatic although you could have missed all the action, if you weren’t so observant.
We would all go again. This was a good location for an Old Chooks’ night out and the upper level would be a good place if you are looking for somewhere more lively.
BEST: Wide selection of food and drinks.
WORST: The Humber scored well in all aspects; to pick a worst, it was the un-padded bar stools, once again. We could have sat on the lounges but that was not really suitable for a group of four.
We had set the date for our August research a few weeks in advance. As usual, finding a date when everyone is free is not easy, but the stars aligned and we had a date fixed. The unusually cold weather and predicted 100 km winds did not deter us from our mission! We rugged up with jackets, scarves and beanies and headed off, our group expanded by one more member.
Our planned bars for the night were, Howlin’ Wolf, The Little Prince and Another Burger Joint. We discovered that the Burger Joint had closed down so we opted for the Bavarian after cruising past Holey Moley and another bar underneath Crown Central. We avoided both of those but in the interests of social science we will go back to them to complete our study. But heads up, they may not score well on the Chook-o-meter. One is a putt putt golf bar, the other full of arcade games.
Down to business.
The Howlin’ Wolf Whiskey Bar
103/53-61 Crown Street (it’s in an arcade)
I arrived at the Howlin Wolf a little before 7PM. My Uber had come quicker than expected. The bar is located in a laneway that runs off Crown Street. There is a pizza shop at one end of the lane and a burger place at the other. The bar itself is very hip with dark interiors, some hand painted “artworks” on the walls and ceiling. By the time everyone arrived and ordered first drinks it was about 7:10. We had apparently missed happy hour by 10 minutes. Oh well… we thought… but then the next people to get served (by a different waiter) DID get the happy hour prices! We felt a little ripped off!
Despite this, the prices were still reasonable and the selection of wine good even though it’s a whiskey bar. The tables were small and the stools low and rickety. The music was loud although in good taste. We could sing along to it all. They probably thought they were being very retro but it was the soundtrack of our youth! Food was an issue. They did not have a kitchen of their own. They had a few choices available which came from the aforementioned pizza/burger places OR since they had deals with most of the other restaurants in the area you could order online and get it delivered. We opted to do without so the scores will be a bit low because of this. The stemless glassware was elegant and apart from missing out on the happy hour pricing, we were happy with the selection. The toilets were clean and abundant. 80% said they would return. Howlin’ Wolf is also a live music venue. They were setting up as we left.
BEST: The good playlist.
WORST: Inconsistent application of happy hour policy!
The Little Prince
The Little Prince is a flagship small bar in Wollongong. It has been open for as long as I can remember. I can’t find anything on their Facebook page to say how long they have been opened, but it’s a long time. It has been a steady favourite for many and was one of the first alternate wine bars to open in the ‘Gong. It is relaxed and elegant with a small indoor seating area and a larger outdoor area, some of which is undercover. It is a great summer venue. We were there in August and as I said above the winds were raging and the temperature below 10C. All the inside seats were understandably taken and we made our way out to sit undercover and near a heater. We kept our jackets and scarfs on. The seating is very comfortable and the general atmosphere cozy. We watched the wind whip the plastic walls in and out.
The drinks menu is good and there is a wide range of tapas and pizza to choose from. Our group ordered a pizza and some hot chips. Both came quickly and were piping hot. The servers were friendly and were able to advise on alternatives to a wine that was out of stock. The music was unobtrusive, to the point that none of us made special mention of it in our surveys. It was easy to chat and we stayed longer than anticipated. A good sign I guess!
BEST: Excellent food selection
WORST: While we were out of the wind, we needed to keep our jackets on. Not really a winter venue.
Crown Street – Wollongong Central Complex
The Bavarian is also part of the Wollongong Central Shopping Mall. It only opened very recently. It is advertised as a German Restaurant and Bar and is part of a chain. The wooden bench seating and bright lighting made it feel like a McDonalds with alcohol. There were also TV’s on the walls playing sports. Is this the thing now?
The bar staff were very friendly and welcoming. A fellow a bit like Hagar the Horrible opened the door for us. He was obviously security but unlike His Boy Elroy he was not dressed in black so he did not look like security. This must be part of the deal of having a bar in this complex?
The bar was nicely set up with glasses hanging from racks. The bar prices were not so pretty. Starting at about $12 a glass, which is not unusual, the servings were VERY small. You could buy a larger serve which was twice the price but not twice the volume. Food choices were good and we were able to select a few share plates. The fried Camembert tasty, but perhaps a little outdated? (or is it so out of date it’s retro?) 60% of us would go back. I think it would be a great venue for big group booking. You could be as noisy as you wanted without a care. It was certainly not the place to go on an intimate first date.
BEST: Glassware and quality of the wine.
WORST: Value for money.
And the winner is…..
So to get to the nitty gritty. The winner out of these 6 bars was the Humber with Red Sqaure and The Little Prince only a few points behind.
Overall, Births and Deaths is still our top scoring small bar in Wollongong, although there is not much in it. I think we may have been a little harsh on Throsby’s? Perhaps we need to revisit there and give them a chance to redeem themselves.
Stayed tuned for Part 3 when we finish off the small bars in Wollongong!