Nicholson Street’s beloved stalwart the Royal Oak has worn a number of coats over the years.
Gone are the days of the pokies, the TAB and its flashing screens, the venue now offers a stunning gourmet menu, live music five nights a week, and a wider fusion of demographics than ever before. Nathan Muller and Noel Fermanis overtook management of the venue in May 2018.
Chatting with Oak Venue Manager Alyce Kirby and Events and Music Booker Grace Turbott, the back room is a quiet ode to a past that Fitzroy North may have almost forgotten. There are AFL posters framed and hanging above the open archway, a small bar that overlooks the modest stage, and a jukebox pressed against the wall so cleverly it almost blends in with the dark wood.
“We have two of those,” says Kirby. “One of them is a video juke, though, so it cuts off the music in the whole pub and plays the music video as well. And they’re both free, so you can go ham.”
“That being said, we’ll cut it off if you try to play something like *NSYNC five times in a row,” adds Turbott. They laugh; apparently Turbott’s tried that one before.
In the front bar, the veterans are seated on stools having a chat while the newer patrons trickle in for the Friday evening rush. Banter seems to be as free-flowing as the beer on tap, and the shift to new management seems to have hardly fazed anyone who frequents the pub – some for the past 40 or so years.
“When we first took over the venue, we had to be quite careful about how we went about making changes,” admits Kirby. “We took the TABs out, but we didn’t want to gentrify the place. We weren’t here to disenfranchise the local community, or the people that had built a community inside the pub, either.
“By keeping the heart and soul of the original Oak, we’re trying to bring a younger demographic in and have that mixture of young and old. There’s nothing better than seeing some of the younger locals sitting at the bar, punching some pints and talking shit with some 60-year-olds.”
In terms of bringing a new sheen to the old local fave, Royal Oak has undergone more than just a fresh coat of paint (literally – it is now bright green). Aside from the two jukes, there’s a gourmet menu that puts a fresh spin on pub classics; vegan and vego options are offered, and cheap deals are available most days of the week, including $12 Parma Thursdays and $15 Roo and Wine Mondays.
Live music five nights a week was a must-have for the new management, having seen a lack of local pubs booking and representing local talents in the Fitzroy North pub scene. Wednesday through to Sunday you’ll find the back room bouncing with anything from an emerging folk artist to a golden-oldies tribute group taking to the stage. Currently, Thursday is reserved for a residency in the front bar and Wednesdays host a welcoming open mic situation.
“It’s an interesting mix of everything; blues, rock, altogether silliness. We’ve even had honky-tonk once when a classically trained pianist got up and fooled around on Wednesday’s open mic night,” says Turbott.
This seems to capture the vibe accurately; good quality community time spent with friends, both new and old, in a venue proud of its heritage and excited by its future.
“You can be whoever you want to be here, nobody’s here to judge anybody else,” Turbott says. Having been unapologetic and steadfast with their stance against bigotry and prejudice, the new management invite anyone and everyone to come and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
“Just turn up and don’t be a dickhead and you’ll be fine. Come watch some sport, we love the footy,” says Kirby. “All we ask is that you settle your rivalries over the pool table.”
Royal Oak is located at 442 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy North and is open 12pm-12am each day of the week. Check out the venue website for menu and gig information.