24.07.2019

The Thornbury Local is an oasis amongst Melbourne’s northern suburbs

Thornbury Local
Words by Augustus Welby

The Thornbury Local launched in 2005. Originally known as Bender Bar, it adopted its current name in 2007. Maybe it’s an accident, maybe it’s a coincidence, but in the years since it really has become the local.

“This is a locals bar,” says co-owner Nick Darling. “There’s no pubs on this strip, so we’re kind of the joint. We’re the first one open, last one closed. The kitchen’s open late seven days a week and we’ve always got music on.”

Darling and his three business partners came into the picture two years ago. The Local’s previous owners, a pair of brothers, had left it in good shape, but there was plenty of room to tinker with the particulars.

“There’s almost a hippy spiritualness to the way they went about running a bar that meant they’d created this incredible community, a really loving, very authentic place,” Darling says. “At the same time, because they’re not hospo professionals in the strictest sense, they’d left us with a lot of opportunities to make it run better.”

Very little about the bar’s culture has changed, mind you. The live music program is exactly the same with bands every Friday and Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. Open mic Wednesday is also very popular.

“I played a lot of open mics when I was younger and they do sometimes have a pretty pathetic feeling,” Darling says. “Ours is really an incredibly bustling, fun community of people that come every week. There’s always a couple of new people who’ve never been here before. The two hosts are both very focused on getting the new people up onstage as a priority and integrated and introduced to people and making friends.

“All that sort of stuff – that community, that culture, that music stuff – we really just inherited and nurtured as much as we could.”

The Local already housed a kitchen, but the new owners made a concerted effort to improve the dining options. Burgers and pizzas are the central offerings, but the artisanal care means the pub is now worth visiting for its food alone.

“We bake three types of bread every day for three different hamburgers. We make our own pizza bases. All of our sauces are homemade. It’s junk food but it’s incredibly well made,” Darling says.

Along with burgers and pizzas, there’s a selection of deep-fried American treats like jalapeno poppers and macaroni and cheese croquettes. Nachos are a recent addition, likewise tofu, chicken and pulled pork tacos. There are also salads, fries and wedges, plus lots of vegan and gluten free options.

“It’s just comfort food and we really strive to keep the prices down. We’re not trying to make money off an expensive dinner. We just want people to sit down, order as much as they want, it doesn’t cost too much and they can have a few beers and it’s good.”

The venue layout has changed, too. The bar was flipped to the other side of the room nine months ago, boosting the feng shui and creating a comfier space.

“We put booths in, created more bar space. We really love the idea of being able to sit at the bar. The old space didn’t really flow, so by putting in these more comfortable tables and really, really working on the food constantly, it’s paying dividends now.”

They haven’t tried to turn the pub in to a cool-kid, Friday night hangout, but it is becoming a bit of a destination bar for food. However, Darling and co. spend a lot of time making sure it stays the local.

“All these people come and hang out here on quiet Mondays and quiet Tuesdays, play trivia with us, and they’re our friends. We definitely don’t want to get to a point where we tried to make the bar profitable by being cooler and then ruined 15 years of community and family.”

The Thornbury Local is located at 635 High St, Thornbury. Visit thethornburylocal.com for more details.