Pub Review: The Exeter, Adelaide

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The beer is fresh and cold, if unspectacular. Coopers features, but otherwise it has a decidedly pedestrian array of beer taps. And the food’s fine although I can’t recall an amazing meal I’ve had in its quirky beer garden.

Ultimately, none of these matter when deconstructing Adelaide’s mighty Exeter Hotel.

Some pubs offer accessibility as their key attraction. A vital yet drearily utilitarian function when you get home after a tough day on the hamster wheel and realise you forgot to take out the chops to defrost, so you barrel down to your local for some cheap schnitzels.

This is not the raison d’être of the X.

Set amidships at 246 Rundle Street in the city’s East End alongside the restaurants, cafes and retailers, a visit to this peerless boozer can set you on the road to Damascus, or at least Kent Town.

Beyond the usual, but still praiseworthy self-promotion of “No Pokies!” the X also positions itself by quietly announcing that pub crawls (Adelaide Uni Engineers: they’re lookin’ at you!), buck’s and hen’s nights and misshapen birthdayers younger than 21 can look elsewhere to celebrate.

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This is a pub that knows its mind. It won’t listen to an hour of AM radio talkback, or watch Q&A and suddenly change its view. It’s a pub that wins the toss on a muggy day, ignores the hectoring of its opening bowlers, and decides to bat.

Just like it always does.

The front bar of the Exeter is an Adelaidean experience par excellence but the grungy microcosm within is removed from the monolithic culture of the day: there’s no which school did you attend? Crows or Port? Mix or Nova? Fruchocs or FUIC? Nonsense you might encounter at other more nakedly aspirational pubs.

Indeed, this incongruity is most welcome and isn’t incompatible with the genteel surrounds: it’s an earthy compulsion. The X, in roaring, bursting flight with its eclectic denizens, is more Soho or Camden Town or Hammersmith pub. As a point of difference, it’s wholly life-affirming.

If the Exeter didn’t exist, it would be necessary to build it.

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Decades back our mate Chris was emigrating to Queensland to work for a software company. So, to mark this, we dined on curry and Kingfisher lager, and then galloped across to the Exeter.

Dawn’s closer than dusk. Only Nick and I remained, our Doc Martins moored to the floorboards. He’s from a farm in Shea-Oak Log. Years ago, we saw the Rolling Stones at Footy Park.

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As always, we navigated travel and bands and film, and our discussion arrived at Harper Lee’s autobiographical masterpiece, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

Over and through our Coopers, we pondered the novel’s last lines, and admired their uncomplicated elegance. They’re among the finest words printed. After the rush of the climax, we’re left with a painterly scene, a world profoundly restored by the love of Atticus

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He turned out the light and went into Jem’s room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.

This is why I love the Exeter.

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Among my favourite writers is the Adelaide Hills-based wine scribe Philip White. Early in my career a highlight was opening Wednesday’s Advertiser in the English faculty office with my then boss and old mate Digby. We’d devour Whitey’s column and belly-laugh and nod. He’s a magnificent author, and naturally, his articles were not about grog, but stories. People, places, events both happy and poignant.

Some years later I finally met Whitey in the Exeter. We yarned at length about much including the account he wrote of the Darwin Stubby Drinking Competition held, of course, at the Humpty Doo pub.

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“I loved the character at the centre of that story, Dave Gaston”, I stated.

Whitey replied. “Yeah, I reckon I compared him to Mick Jagger saying he’d ‘carefree elegance.’”

“You did. And it was great that while Dave won the prize you put a twist in the tail.”

“It was true,” the plonk critic nodded, “The quickest Darwin Stubby guzzler on the day was Norman. A Brahman bull.”

This is why I love the Exeter.

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So, the X can be curmudgeonly. But safely within its ageless walls- check out the TOURIST DIES OF THIRST newspaper billboard behind the bar- you’ll be at this town’s ragged, charming heart and in a place of conversation and character and cheer.

It’s that most rare of locations: the destination pub.

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