The Renown Tavern; The Louisiana Shakers

On Monday it was my special holiday. Miss K was at work. Just enough colleagues were as well that I could relish the schadenfreude so essential for a successful random day off. I ambled up to eat baked eggs at Birdman Eating, coffee at Gertrude St Enoteca (sorry Dr Java), and get my mop chopped at Dr Follicles. Folly was closed and so was Birdy. That was a blow. Shaggy haired and hardened by hunger, the coffee at Gert’s no longer appealed. I tried Dante’s, but Maria wasn’t there. No one new me. The place was empty. I popped across the road to the Renown Tavern, one of the least blinged-up pubs in the inner city. A former manager who left in “very bitter circumstances” had gaily advertised the unrenovated air of the place in chalk on the side of the building, and I thought any place in Fitzroy that advertised its lack of renovation warranted a visit in order to stave off renovation any longer.
I had an experience very reminiscent of sitting at the front bar of the Union Hotel on the High Street of Nhill. Both places sported publicans from another era who lived up above. Both sported a woman very much at home there at noon, and both featured a crumple faced old geyser of exactly the kind which is made homeless by renovations — a scandal little reported on by the mainstream media but which I call the Second Stolen Generation.

Old Sam Matthieson had spent 30 years behind bars in Geelong, back in the days when barmaids would be pleased if a traveller would shout them a pony of beer. He’d been sitting on that particular stool daily for the last 10 years, and lived in the Gertrude St housing commission flats which are apparently a lot better since they were “re-done inside”. Get him talking about the shortcomings of Geelong Bitter and you’re in for an entertaining spiel. Mind you I was nodding away in agreement — the loathesome stuff used to be on tap at the Builders Arms in its last but one iteration, but hidden under some apparently so-Fitzroy “Dolly” label.

The other drinker looked like he was drinking very slowly indeed, and was studying his half-empty pot intently. He did not descend into conversation. He had very long white hair and a very long white beard, and looked like someone retired off the set of Lord of the Rings. The mysterious woman seemed at home in the front bar in her faux leopard skin coat.

Sam and the publican told me at some length with an absolute earnestness which indicated complete conviction, about the ghost of the fellow murdered upstairs. A key bit of evidence was that some chips fell off a shelf without explanation one time.

But best, I discovered that the Louisana Shakers play there. I know these guys vaguely through a Fitzroy Great Gatsby who throws brilliant jazz parties, often with bands put together by Alan Brown and various associates, including in particular Chris Tanner, a world clarinet genius who just happens to live in Melbourne and may still be playing with his band Virus every Saturday at Laundry on Johnston St, a brilliant gig. They are a very good band. They play free on Sundays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. This is one gig where you could be guaranteed, as the chalked sign on the side of the pub says, no pretentiousness.

One Reply to “The Renown Tavern; The Louisiana Shakers”

  1. I grew up in the Renown Hotel. As a child I also witnessed the ghost many times. Sam and the publican have every reason to be totally convinced!!

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