Pot Belly, Belconnen

7 Jun

It seems everyone has a story about visiting the Pot Belly in Weedon Close in Belconnen. The bar sits in the same street as other Canberra institutions – Turkish Delight, Laser Tag and Can Tho – and has been a haunt for generations of uni students and Belconnen residents. But the last few years of its decades-long history have been a little shaky.

Let’s be honest: as many Canberrans will attest, the Pot has always been a dive bar. Its lack of natural light and dark wood throughout lends itself to an ‘English pub’ descriptor. It’s also familiar – the customers are familiar (which can be a bit daunting if you’re visiting for the first time), the beers are familiar (the only craft beer offered was Roger’s), and the location hasn’t changed in 40 years. In the last few years it took on the name Pot Belly Bar and Bistro, operating a small restaurant which was open most days of the week – but it was empty. Few people knew about it, and if they did, they rarely took advantage of it.

Pot Belly had been for sale for around a year when finally there was a taker – or takers. Six people – or three couples – now co-own this skinny pub in the heights of Belconnen’s Town Centre. Within a few days the new owners stripped the taps and replaced them entirely with craft beer (and I’m not talking Roger’s). The structure is entirely the same, but oddly-framed live act memorabilia that crowded the walls has disappeared. I think the most interesting thing to watch over the coming months is whether the usual customers will disappear – and, if so, if they’ll be replaced.

I first visit the new Pot Belly a few weeks after it’s re-opened. It’s still dark, but the fire is roaring. The jukebox is there in the corner and the pool table has moved back towards the bar to make room for couches around the fire. I only recognise some of the beers on tap from having been along to the Canberra Craft Beer and Cider Festival and the Beer Day Out. Pints are between $8 and $11. And the name’s changed. It’s now The Pot Belly – Boutique Bar. And boutique it is. The Holgate Mt Macedon Pale Ale is the beer they’re using welcome customers to their range, and they’re more than willing to help patrons find a beer which might resemble the VB or Carlton Dry they’re used to. Because that’s the thing: there are no usual beers. Not only that – there are no usual spirits either. After a Bundy rum and Coke? You’ll be introduced to a dark rum you might never have heard of.

If the craft beers can closely match something like a VB, why have craft beers at all? If you’re looking for a VB and you walk into Pot Belly, shouldn’t you just walk out? Why not have a VB on tap for the faithful?  This is what the ever-astute Marcus Paul asks me during our Monday afternoon catch up on 2CC. It’s a good question, and I want to have faith – while it puzzles me that there’s not at least one VB/Carlton Dry/Carlton Draught/XXXX on tap, I want to trust in the owners who do, clearly, know a lot about beer. Wouldn’t having a VB on tap amongst the other great beers be a nod to The Man and serve to discourage the craft brewers from exhibiting at the Pot? And, really, there are plenty of other places in Canberra – and especially Belconnen – where all those beers are on tap (including within walking distance of the Pot) – so is it really a big price to pay if a venue in Canberra is bringing us genuinely unique and interesting beers?

And what of these beers? The thing is: the taps are going to change regularly! Of what I’ve tasted? I think the Mt Macedon Pale Ale is a great brew – very accessible, easy to drink, pouring beautifully. The 2.8 per cent Pacer is one of my favourites (an eminently drinkable light beer? Who’d have thunk it) and the Motley Brew is delicious. Two Birds is a featured red ale which I expect will be popular. Changing the taps regularly might annoy some people, but for a lot of beer drinkers I think it might well be a selling point: keep the beer choices new and fresh and keep the clientele coming back to see what you’ve got.  (I hear new Pact Beer Co has the Mt Tennent Ale on tap now, too!)

The best part about the new Pot Belly? Hands down, it’s the tasting paddles. For $10 you get your choice of three 200ml serves of different tap beers. 600ml at $10 is comparable to just ordering a pint and hoping for the best, so this is a clever way of helping you try new beers and acquaint yourself with the new (ever changing!) range.

There’s no food served at the Pot (yet – watch this space), but they’ve partnered with some of the great restaurants in the area who will do takeaway delivery. On the night of its official launch (complete with cake!), the Brathaus supplies delicious sausages.

Yes, that’s a cake!

Belco TC is thriving at the moment (54 Benjamin, La De Da, Pho Hub, Chatterbox), and a rejuvenated Pot Belly only serves to add to the mix. I hope it remains an ingredient that’s interesting and accessible. Perhaps it won’t attract the old customers (but there remain plenty of haunts regardless), but it’s been fun to see new faces – dare I say! – a whole heap of families and children enjoying the space. The most recent report is that it was packed on Friday night – a good sign on a frigid winter night, and hopefully a sign of things to come.

Very much looking forward to seeing where the owners take it.

Dates: Various, May 2015

Where: Weedon Close, Belconnen Town Centre (plenty of parking available, especially free parking after 5.30pm on Fridays and on weekends)

Cost: Variable!

Value for money: Reasonable

Worthwhile factor: Worthwhile

Want more? The Facebook page seems the most up to date source at the moment!

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2 Responses to “Pot Belly, Belconnen”

  1. lizzygoodthings June 13, 2015 at 1:14 pm #

    Great to see this old icon has re-opened… used to go there decades ago when it was a pub come disco (were you even born then Tara?) … and then in the early noughties for a weekly trivia night. The pub food was bad, and the place was full of cigarette smoke, but we did have fun! Wish the new owners well with this venture.

  2. @fuelled December 24, 2015 at 1:02 pm #

    Pubs in Weedon Close: I’ve got PB obviously, Blind Beggars(now a brew at PB), Leather Bottle, over the north side of the carpark a bar known as “Kid’s” something due to the age profile, and a s…hole with maybe “sin” in the name next to BB’s. Better memory required.

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