If I go missing one day, if you can’t find me for a while and have no idea where I’ve gone, check the cupboards and crawlspaces at Josie Bones in Melbourne. I’d only been there an hour before I was casing the place, looking for a place to stowaway and secretly live — emerging in the dead of night to drink lovely beer and feast on delicious leftovers.
Like my now-beloved Local Taphouse, Josie Bones was one of those amazing-sounding places that opened shortly after I moved back to Wellington. But despite occasional trips back, I’d never managed a visit until the Saturday afternoon between GABS sessions three and four. Hashigo’s David Wood and I met up with my Melbourne-resident friend Toby, and we seized the chance.
It was freakin’ awesome — as I may have telegraphed by suggesting I might disappear there some day. It’s a cute little place (smaller than I, for some reason, thought it’d be), charming and welcoming, well-presented but completely unpretentious. We took a seat at the bar, and quickly realised we were being served by the two founders — recognisable to those People Who Watch the Teevee Box as former Masterchef Australia contestants.
Josie Bones is a massively uncommon thing; a place that properly ‘gets’ food and beer. The beer menu is a gloriously fat clipboard of helpfulness (backed-up by the knowledge and enthusiasm housed in the brains of the staff), and there’s a healthy range available from the taps and/or the fridge. They’d done a wet-hop beer dinner just a few days prior, and several survivors were still pouring. I opted for Bright’s ‘Harvest 150’, since I couldn’t stop yammering about their Fainter’s Dubbel at a mini-beer-fest in Fed Square a few weeks previous. It, too, was exactly what I wanted — fat, rich red malt and plenty of fresh-hop zing and zip around the palate; full-on, but self-assured, rather than desperately clamouring for attention. I (a currently-unemployed person who’s lately been earning meager bartender-money, as I said before) splashed out on some stupidly-delicious food, and the combination of sensory delights nearly crippled me with joy. (And left me, not to belabour the point, idly planning how to move in.)
The overwhelming sensation — of the people, the place and the beer — was of welcome. Which is remarkably rare, in the “hospitality” (quote-unquote) business, but gleefully and glaringly obvious when done right. It’s a (deservedly) famously “meaty” place, with back-bar art and even door handles that seem to scream “Vegetarians: Fuck Off”. But that’s not it at all. I have it on very good authority from a non-omnivorous friend that, if you stand your ground and ask for things other-than-flesh, they have plenty and it’s just as mind-meltingly delicious. So the trotter-handles and the carcass-painting aren’t a prohibition; they’re just a friendly warning. Ditto the broad beer spectrum. It’s there if you want it, and if you’re remotely curious or just vaguely open-minded, you’ll be helped towards finding something you’ll cherish without scorn or harangue. They’re proud of their ability to match beer to people and people-and-beers to food expertly derived from former animals; they present it forthrightly and with justifiable pride. But it’s not all they do — though if they do bring you into their fold, you’ll become a tally-mark on their wall. I’m told they started keeping track of people they made recant their former “I don’t drink beer” self-identification — and that the smaller tally represented de-converted vegetarians.
Original Diary entry: Josie Bones 12/5/12, inbetween sessions. Finally made it here, and I already want to secretly live in one of their cupboards. Smaller than I thought, nicely kitted out, friendly and welcoming. I’ve got a Bright Brewery ‘Harvest 150’ (7%, $10, 330ml), which is stunning. Gorgeously red, smooth tan head, big fresh hop presence. Like what Garage Project were going for (and mostly got) with ‘Oldham’s Farm’. I splashed out, in hunger and excitement, and got Crackling of the Day (Pork, $4), Fries with Thyme + Prosciutto Salt + Chiptole Aioli ($9) and Crispy Beer-marinated Quail with Pickled Quail Egg ($9). Now, I’m rather satisfied, I must say.