It’s 140 metres from Strathalbyn’s Victoria Hotel to the Terminus Hotel. However, a wide aesthetic divide reveals itself inside these proximate pubs. How did this happen? We were about to find out.
Arriving mid-afternoon, Claire and I saunter about the fetching park and gardens, River Angas, bowls club and swimming pool. As a measure of its prosperous agricultural location there’s many handsome and sprawling homes. We go to the oval where the Strathalbyn Roosters Junior Colts are training ahead of Saturday’s Preliminary Final against the Willunga Demons. The surface is lush and closely mown. Circle work is underway.
We peer in the window of the footy club. The bar’s open and some parents are yakking around a table. Pausing on the verandah, with the yelling and the voices leaping about the damp oval, we conclude that with its small court and limited players, netball doesn’t need much vocalising whereas footy, played on massive meadows with 36 participants, demands constant interaction. The young Roosters move the ball well and I hear, “Macca, Macca! Run hard Josh. Good pass Scotty!” Their full-forward takes a few grabs and leaning back, Grenville Dietrich style, he slots a couple majors while we watch and chat, the soundtrack of Thursday afternoon training making me nostalgic for my own small, distant playing days.
The Victoria pub is open-hearted with a fire place, multiple tap beers, and exposed brick and stonework. After our strolling it’s a treat to park ourselves by the flames and, just as I think it needs some attention, mine-host emerges and hoicks on some logs before prodding it like a gruff publican. The orange warmth cloaks us and our cold thaws. In the morning, with snow forecast, we’ll drive to Mount Lofty and step out of the car into a tumble of silent flakes. In late September! In Adelaide! Back in the boozer, Claire has a sparkling white while I select a Balter XPA. Both are crisp and tipped in with joy.
The dining room features table candles and wine barrels sitting atop the ceiling beams in acknowledgement of our closeness to Langhorne Creek, picturesque home to fine cabernet sauvignon. My salt and pepper squid is fleshy and tasty and I ask Claire, “How’s your vegetarian curry?” to which she replies, “Curried and vegetably.” There’s a gladdening buzz in the bar as we jettison ourselves into the rainy darkness.
Late Saturday, we learnt that The Terminus is truthfully named and my only doubt is if it best describes the clientele, staff, or pub itself. Recently renovated, it includes clean walls and a wide, self-possessed bar that have only rendered it charmless and incurably grim. It’s a place for devoted punters and should at least smell of fresh paint, but I detect despair and plummeting testosterone. Our drinks were slopped out by a sour type who ensured all her coloured-glass water bottles were filled to the brim before she lifted her lifeless eyes and sullenly served us, understanding, of course, there’s immense profit in tap water compared to tap beer.
Suddenly craving fresh air we bypassed the bent menfolk, watery-eyed over their warm glasses and, like the pesky kids in Scooby Doo, crept outside. A beer garden should cultivate sunshiny conversation and laughter but, despite overlooking the emerald park and the river, that of The Terminus merely nurtures ugly tables, upturned plastic chairs, unendurable dog poo, and disappointment.
I’ve been to Paris three times but, until last week, never to Strathalbyn which is less than an hour from Adelaide. How does this happen? We’ll soon return to its pastoral cosiness if not all its pubs.