A QUIET revolution has been taking place around Newcastle. Banks morphing into bars with food; old time, traditional pubs shedding their blokey image; women no longer banished to the ladies' lounge, kids welcome.
The latest rebirth is thanks to Jeff McCloy and his McCloy Group just this year. They have taken a grand old dame born in the 1880s, restored its original facade and introduced some elegant modern designs and features.
Old and new sit side by side in the gutted courtyard with its soaring ceiling, roughly textured brick walls and industrial strength-reinforcing beams. The brickwork provides a projection screen for a moveable feast of images; colourful birds and flowers; black and white depictions of old style dancers.
A huge drop-down screen means that patrons don't miss one minute of the action in all the big sporting matches.
This is a place for some serious eating and drinking. You can't book unless you are a group and pre-order and if you come when there is a footy grand final on come early, nana hours, at 6.30pm unless you are prepared to queue. And you still might find that all the jalapeno corn bread with smokehouse maple butter ($10) has been pre-ordered by the footy crowd due in later.
Don't worry, there is plenty of down-home, US-inspired cooking to suit most appetites. The menu runs from light starters to share plates, including the mandatory chicken wings, to tacos and hot dogs, smokehouse barbecue meats and salads. All main dishes come with good fries.
The Big Pig Platter ($69) features full rack baby back pork ribs, beer mopped, pulled pork and smoked andouille pork sausages and requires a big appetite. Even for two that's a big call. More mates to share? You might try The Pit Master Barbecue Platter ($110) with full rack baby back pork ribs, black Angus beef short ribs, free range pulled pork shoulder, black Angus beef brisket, smoked andouille pork sausages and half a barbecue chicken. Whew!
A platter of smoked warm olives with pulled smoked garlic bread to dip into a creamy spinach, artichoke and smoked cheddar dip ($14) is a good place to start, continuing with San Antonio Choy Bow ($14), a Tex-Mex take on a Chinese restaurant favourite. The crisp lettuce cups are filled with pulled pork, green papaya slaw, spicy cajun dukkah, their special "red eye mayo" and honey hoisin sauce.
Or you could try the BBQ Popcorn Shrimp ($18) - a generous bucket of crusted, sweet-fleshed prawns which are just waiting to be dipped into a bowl of lemon and paprika aioli.
With such a focus on meat it's surprising to find some vegetarian choices. I counted nine, including several which weren't even marked. And there are also plenty that are gluten-free as all the tacos are made with white corn, gluten-free soft tortillas.
The Bone Dry Rubbed Black Angus Beef Short Ribs are good for sharing and come in two sizes, one rib ($24) or two ribs ($34). The ribs have been smoked and slow cooked for hours until the meat is soft enough to be pulled apart with a fork. And the flavour! Intense beefiness with sinews that have melted into lip-smacking juiciness by the long, slow cooking.
Desserts are there for the sweet tooth but after all that meat, dessert is probably a dish too far. Come back another time, just for coffee and dessert.