REVIEW: She’s not your prettiest pub, but she’s definitely one of Sydney’s friendliest.
The Friend in Hand, in the quiet back streets of Glebe, is also unique in that it retains the quaint name it was given over 150 years ago, when pubs with the label Dog and Duck, Plough, Steam Engine, Crooked Billet, Old Blue Pot, Labour in Vain Hotel, Bush Tavern, Black Dog, and Sprig of Shillelagh were the norm around the streets of Sydney.
This weekend’s pub visit at Glebe’s famous Friend in Hand Hotel was minus the food. We arrived as the bistro was closing, and decided to dine elsewhere, but enjoy the atmopshere of this fanastic traditional style pub over a refreshment or two. When I describe the Friend in Hand as historic, I’m not exaggerating. She celebrates her 160th birthday on July 1 2017.
As a pub historian, I can’t help to take a brief look back at this Sydney treasure. Built as a timber inn by Michael Delohenty, the Friend in Hand was licensed to trade on July 1 1857 after the publican transferred his license of the Albert Inn, on what is today Broadway. He and his wife Honora had been at the helm of the Albert Inn, on what was then known as Parramatta Street, since 1854.
Michael hosted the Friend in Hand Inn for 15 years before his death in 1872. His widow Honora took over as host for many years after her husband’s death.
Tooth and Company bought the old inn around 1921, and plans for a new hotel, prepared by architect R.M. Joy, were submitted to Council in 1936 and the new building was completed in 1937.
While the Friend in Hand was rebuilt, customers’ thirsts were kept at bay with a “temporary bar”. As the new brick hotel neared completion, a huge storm hit Sydney in December 1936, dumping record rain on Sydney. The Sydney Morning Herald reported: “Some of the streets in city and suburbs were awash, from gutter to gutter during the deluge. At the Friend-in-Hand Hotel, Glebe, the barman and his customers had to meet an unusual occasion. Rain penetrated the temporary bar, but, rather than forsake their haven, especially after a curtailed sports programme, they took off their shoes and socks, put up their umbrellas, and continued to take the refreshment they felt they so needed.”
When completed the hotel became one of many Sydney hotels built in the inter-war Functionalist Style at the time, with its Art Deco overtones.
When the new pub opened it advertised “nicely furnished single rooms, with hot and cold water, and all modern conveniences, at 12 shillings and sixpence a week, or 15 shillings a week, including breakfast.”
But onto today; When we walked through the doors of the Friend in Hand we were greeted by a friendly barman, who informed us that the bistro had closed for the day, but if we waited around he was about to put on a free sausage sizzle for his customers. We decided to by-pass the barby, instead settling in with a Reschs draught, a lemon lime and bitters and an audience with George, the resident white cockatoo.
George wasn’t too happy about being woken from his slumber, and was a little grumpy, and not too talkative when we were introduced by the barman.
Walking back from the bar an elderly bloke, wearing a well-worn greasy akubra on his scone, offered some advice. He was no doubt a regular. “Have you said g’day to our parrot yet,” he said. “Yeah, he was a little grumpy, and wasn’t in the best of moods,” I replied. “Ah, you’ve got ‘im on a bad day,” he said, turning back to his schooner of beer.
The Friend in Hand is appropriately named, and during our visit had an atmosphere of welcomeness. Another regular, a young tradie, knew George’s temperament. He was feeding him crackers. He explained the best way to George’s heart was through his stomach: “Feed him, and he’ll be ya mate for life,” he laughed.
The Friend in Hand is often described as more of a museum than a pub. I would beg to differ. It’s more a traditional pub; and a good one at that.
The paraphernalia that cramps its bar is an added bonus, but it’s the people that make a pub. And people seem to be what give this pub the character and reputation that precede it. Time Gents gives a friendly, four out of five schooner glasses to the Friend in Hand at Glebe. We’ll be back.