On a scale of wheat to chaff, it’s clear which end The Golden Barley sits on. The exterior is a Tooth & Co stunner from 1939, and tucked away behind it is one of the best beer gardens of the Inner West. We met up with publican Penny Hewlett, who runs the GB with her husband Andie, and chatted about what it’s like to actually live at the pub (rather than it just seeming like you live at the pub). When we asked about noise she said, “If I can’t hear anything I’m more worried because there aren’t enough people having a good time.” Instant legend status.
So what’s your background?
My family’s been in pubs for a long time - generations and generations - I guess I never really thought I would necessarily go into the business and I used to work in book publishing actually, in the publicity department at well it was Random House then, there’s been merger after merger, and then one day I just decided that I wanted to learn more about the family business. So I worked in other people’s pubs unrelated to the family for awhile and learnt what I could from really great operators and then an opportunity came up to come here and run the Barley and that was 12 years ago and we’ve been here ever since. It was a bit of a leap for Andie because he had a bit of a stockbroking background and no hotel background at all and he took a massive leap of faith leaving everything that he had, no safety net, and coming here.
The Golden Barley Hotel today
What’s it like on a marriage, running a pub together?
Look these days it’s great, I think we were kind of made to work together. The first couple of years it’s really hard to find your rhythm and which area of responsibility belongs to who, to work out where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and then to help each other with that. And that’s really tough, you know, but we love it now and have done for a long time and have thrown kids into the mix since then and it’s fine, we’ve definitely found how we work best…
How do you divvy it up?
Andie does mornings, that’s how we divvy it up! [laughs]…and I do nights. That’s not it entirely but I guess we just know each other really well and we know which situation calls for which person. It’s sort of an ever-evolving thing but definitely it’s become much easier since we’ve recognised that I’m a night person and Andie’s a morning person.
Do you know a lot about the history of the pub - is it Tooth & Co?
Yeah, it was. So it opened in 1939, you know, just before World War II and I think had to exist with serious beer shortages through it’s first couple of years. I think at one point all they had was Resch’s, just Resch’s and Resch’s and Resch’s. Which these days a lot of people would be happy about I guess. Originally the front bar, the bar extended all the way to the end of the room, you can see the bulkhead, and the bar followed that all the way around, because it was very much a 6 o’clock swill style local pub. It was built to replace - there was a pub over the road - called the Enmore Hotel - and that was knocked down and this was built as a modern new hotel to replace it. There was nothing built here prior to that, it was a sawmill. But it’s a really distinctive building, the architecture is beautiful, it’s built on an odd wedge shape which is why they’ve done it the way that they have. We have changed the interior a bit since we’ve come but the upstairs is pretty original! We love the building, we feel very lucky to exist here in the hotel. I guess it’s been under the ownership of the same group of family and friends since about ’89/1990 and it hasn’t had a huge number of publicans over that time and the publicans it has had have been very heavily invested in it. And one of our business partners was the original publican and he’s still involved and has been a mentor to us, we also get to work with our family. It’s a really nice situation to get to work with family and friends and run a family pub basically.
The Golden Barley Hotel when it was first built in 1939
So what’s it like to live upstairs? Do your kids love it?
I think they mostly do, they don’t know any different. I talk to some publicans who say ‘I’m never living upstairs again!’ but for us at this time of our life it really suits us because we work from home. We get to be around the pub enough and be with our kids enough. And it gives us a great amount of flexibility.
Do you get a lot of noise?
We do upstairs but we’re kind of used to it. My theory is if I can’t hear anything I’m more worried because there aren’t enough people having a good time.
Is there any ghost stories?
There’s not! And I’m not game to even start them because my kids will never sleep again. So, sadly, no ghost stories that I know of yet.
You have a lot of regulars I presume?
Yeah we do, we’ve seen the area change a lot over the time that we’ve been here. I guess in that way, some of our older regulars have passed away or might have been priced out of the area but you know it shifts and changes. We’ve got a lovely man who comes in every morning, or six mornings a week and does a bit of sweeping up in the beer garden, he separates all our glass into different coloured glass for the glass guys, and does a little bit of pub laundry, bits and pieces, but he’s got to be 80. But he’s been doing that for the 12 years we’ve been here, probably the 12 years before that. So he comes in early, does his jobs and at 10 o’clock sits down and has a schooner of Old and people pop in to see him. So we do have bit of a morning celebrity.
Do you have a favourite bar from pop culture?
I don’t know if it’s my favourite bar but the one that jumps to mind - only because I was rematching a bit of it the other night - was Merlotte’s in True Blood.
If last drinks was called on earth what would your knock-off be?
Look it would have to be a glass of - sorry I know this is a beer thing - but I do like to have a beer with a chaser of wine!
So this is a bit of a hidden gem - particularly the beer garden. What’s your hidden gems of the inner west?
I don’t know if there’s any such things as hidden gems any more but probably Happy Chef is our kids’ favourite staple place to go. And I guess if Andie and I are going somewhere and we’re not bringing children with us, Hartsyard is our favourite restaurant I would say. Probably the other one for barbecue is Bovine & Swine.
One of the best beer gardens in the Inner West
And you’re doing live music?
Yes, we’ve been doing it for a bit over a year now. Because we’ve got neighbours so close it’s been a little bit difficult to navigate but we’ve got council approval and we’re just very careful about the type of acts we get. A customer, a booker that we know, Adam Yee, books our music for us. It’s just nice as a local pub to be able all the things that a local community wants.
Have there been any really memorable performances?
There have been lots. I love a group called Broads and they are in Melbourne and have come up here a couple of times. Luke Yeoward who used to be the front man in King Cannons played a gig here only a few weeks ago and it was just him and a guitar on the stage and he was incredible. And it was a Tuesday night - tough night- there was lots of people there, and just held that room incredibly. We’ve got a band coming up - Not Good With Horses - coming up on Thursday and they’re great, Brielle Davis who’s the singer has got a kickass voice, she’s really amazing. I guess one of the nice things is we’ve got so many customers who are musicians and finally they get to pop up and take that stage. We had Murray Wiggle the other night!
What was the first gig that you went to and the last?
I don’t get to gigs that often but it’s easy - the last gig I went to was Springsteen! And the first gig I probably went to was Lenny Kravitz, probably when I was about 15 or 16. But definitely the last one was Springsteen, I learnt some Springsteen moves, there’s a move for every song, I’ve got a great appreciation for the man now.
Golden Barley Hotel
165-169 Edgeware Rd,
Enmore NSW 2042