It takes a lot to get me out of the house these days, and even more to get me into a bar full of strangers. Covid restrictions have made me used to staying at home, cosying up on the couch, binge-watching Netflix, and making do with what’s in the fridge and pantry. I’ve stocked up on craft beers and ciders – so there’s no shortage of those in the house.
But when the invitation came along to go on a Small Bar Tour, hosted by hospitality group Oh Hey WA, I figured, what the heck, I can pause the Netflix for a bit, and maybe it’ll do me good to get out into the real world again.
Oh Hey WA have been operating since 2014, doing a great job at showing locals and visitors to our great city some of the more interesting parts of Perth. Their knowledgeable guides take small groups through alleyways and intimate venues that we might otherwise miss or not even know existed if we weren’t being led in the right direction.
We met up with our tour guide, Jess, at the digital tower in Yagan Square. In case you’re wondering, that’s the cylindrical structure that has metal poles jutting out of the top, with videos running around it 24/7.
Jess is a true enthusiast in the Perth arts and bar scenes, and she’s a joy to meet. You feel as though she has been a pen-pal of yours for ages and that she’s just been dying to introduce you to her hometown and show you its best secret hiding spots.
Immediately we are given an art lesson: the meaning behind the digital tower and how it pays tribute to the swamp land that used to be here and to its traditional custodians, the Whadjuk Noongar people.
Jess is also clued up about the newer installations that now grace the land, such as the ‘green cactus’ in Forrest Place. Where I was once told the sculptor who created this vivid sculpture was paid a hefty 10 million – with much of it funding a decadent ex-pat lifestyle in New York, Jess clarified things by telling me Perth-born artist James Angus is actually a pretty humble dude and that he was paid 1 million (still, that’ll get you window seats in a decent NYC restaurant). Incidentally, the ‘cactus’ piece is actually called ‘Grow Your Own’ and it has its connotations in medical technology more than evergreen plants – it’s actually supposed to represent the wavy lines you see on hospital heart monitors. But I digress…
After meandering down a couple of alleyways, which admittedly could do with a bit of a makeover from our government, we ended up at our first small bar: Alfred’s Pizzeria.
Looking more like an underground speakeasy than a pizza bar, Alfred’s is plastered wall to wall with pop culture memorabilia. It’s not a difficult type of décor to create, in fact you might say some of it is on the tacky side – literally, considering the ‘wallpaper’ is just old Rolling Stone magazine pages cut up and pasted all the over the place.
The great thing about Alfred’s is the actual pizza. Simply delicious, and if you’re on an Oh Hey WA tour, you’re a great discount deal to use at Alfred’s: get a boutique beer or cider of your choice plus two slices of pizza for just ten bucks. You find a deal like that anywhere else.
Next, it was down Hay Street towards the mall, where more fab history is offered, about the performance artists who used to frequent these quarters and the architecture that hugs one of Perth’s most popular streets. While a lot of inner-city architecture exists in the CBD, our government has been clever enough to at least keep the facades of much of the old buildings. Hence if you look up while walking down this end of Hay, you’ll notice some spectacular art deco design, including the old Savoy Hotel, Devon House and the Harper’s Buildings.
Our host Jess is not only proud of local artists, but respectful of the many international artists who have helped decorate our city. She’ll inform you who painted what on what wall, when and why.
Meandering our way down mural-lined alleyways, we pop in for a bit to classic bar Wolf Lane, situated (naturally) in Wolf Lane. I always like this place – its something about the ramshackle aspect of it, teamed with plenty of nods to classic literature by the likes of Lewis Carroll and the Brothers Grimm. Heck, there’s even a giant mural out the front of the venue of a kid dressed in big bad wolf cosplay and a little red riding hood. More cocktail specials on offer here, my partner and I opting for a Dark & Stormy each at $12 a pop.
Our final bar stop is the splendid new Volstead Lounge. The venue takes its name from Andrew Volstead – the dude responsible for penning the legislation behind the infamous National Prohibition Act of 1920. A giant portrait of Volstead is emblazoned on the front door and you can only the door if you pick the right book as a lever (very ‘escape room’ except you’re wanting to get in).
This place is beautifully designed and the drinks menu is very spesh. We ended our tour with a hemp-infused gin cocktail, and a chat with the owner of Oh Hey WA tours, Adie Chapman, who herself is very much a small bar enthusiast.
Even in the current pandemic period – when you’d expect drinking and dining to have dropped off the average Joe’s calendar – tours such as those hosted by Oh Hey WA are proving hugely popular, both with locals and tourists.
It might well be the excellent value for money these tours provide patrons that makes them so highly favoured. Put it this way (and to get the money thing out of the way), the price of a Small Bars Tour is $45 and includes stops in at least three venues, each offering great discounts. The drinks alone on this tour would cost you around 80 bucks on a normal night out on the town but here you get to drink, eat, be informed (thanks again, Jess), and be very merry.
For more information on Oh Hey WA’s tours including the Small Bar Tour, visit ohheywa.com.au.