Last drinks at the virtual pub, and cheers to the real thing

Travis Bristow’s virtual pub is about to move into a real one – and he’s not sure how to feel about it.

For 18 months, the do-it-yourself podcaster and friends Warren Wu and Davydd Griffiths have hosted online “meet the brewer” events every Thursday, showcasing breweries from Mr Bristow’s western Melbourne neighbourhood to Germany and beyond.

Travis Bristow, co-host of The Cool Room podcast, has hosted online “meet the brewer” events for 18 months. Credit:Joe Armao

The Zoom calls would sometimes reach 100 attendees, continuing until the wee hours as a handful of Melburnians who’d never met traded tales and solved the world’s problems.

“We had a Sunday session this past week and we suddenly realised: hold on, we can do this in real life,” Mr Bristow says. “We agreed that once Thursday comes, let’s log off the call at 11.30pm and meet for a beer in real life – as long as we can get a reservation.”

The Yarraville resident, an events worker by day, hopes his pint will be among Melbourne’s first legal drinks at 11.59pm on Thursday when the city escapes its sixth and – barring disaster – final COVID-19 lockdown.

For the fully vaccinated, hospitality will reopen to 50 customers outdoors and 20 indoors, hairdressers and beauty salons can operate for up to five people, while the 9pm curfew and movement limit are gone. Retail must follow a slightly rougher road, with up to 50 customers allowed outdoors only.

Panda Hot Pot general manager Evan Long (centre) will be serving guests from 11.59pm Thursday.Credit:Scott McNaughton

Many Melburnians are craving that post-lockdown release: ask Kim Evans, owner of Lux Brows and Lashes in Essendon Fields.

Ever worked a long shift? This Thursday, hers starts at midnight and ends 16 hours later, at 4pm on Friday.

“We opened up bookings from midnight and it’s just been insane,” Ms Evans says. “Our website crashed, we’ve had over 200 voicemails every day. I tell you, do not get between a woman and her brows.”

The beautician plans to fuel herself on a lunchtime power nap on Thursday.

“Then it’s go time. I know my body is going to be screaming by the end. It’s like [going from] sitting in your lounge chair to running a marathon in one day. So I’m prepared: I’ve booked in an osteopath appointment every two weeks until Christmas.”

Other Melburnians, jaded by another year punctuated by lockdowns, are approaching with more caution.

Mr Bristow feels some of the uncertainty.

“Coming out of lockdown once and for all, we don’t know what it means for The Coolroom Podcast and for this little community we’ve created. We’d love to do weekend trips as a group, meet at breweries around Melbourne, but it’s uncharted territory.”

Prahran resident Olivia Bonnici echoes that sentiment.

“It’s a catch-22. All my favourite places have been booked out, menus are set with a minimum spend like $60 per person, queues are long,” says Ms Bonnici, who’s more eager on the greater freedoms at 80 per cent double-dose vaccination coverage, expected by November 1 in Victoria.

“The hype will settle in a week or two. In the meantime I’ll do some self-care and get a haircut, finally.”

Spicy bowls of soup will be simmering in front of 20 diners soon after midnight Friday at Panda Hot Pot in Carlton, housed in what was once the exuberant Dracula’s cabaret restaurant.

General manager Evan Long says visitor limits will prove a challenge for the indoor-only restaurant, and they’re planning to reward everyone who made a pre-booking for midnight with a free soup.

Mr Long, a member of Melbourne City North Business Precinct Association, led by president Christina Zhou, says: “We’re so excited to host customers who missed their friends and family for such a long time.”

“There will be new challenges, checking vaccination status and staying on top of check-ins, but we are ready.”

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