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Welcome to the lofty world of pots, stubbies and rounds, where a pub with no beer is akin to a concentration camp and you dare not dash to the toilet when it's your shout. Welcome to the Melbourne pub.

Beer. Aaah that lip-smacking amber fluid so powerful it transforms drinkers into a whole new shape (the beer gut/beer belly). Beer is a crucial element of any Australian pub. If you want a martini, go to a bar, and if you want to pay for a bottle of water go to a club.

But if it's beer you're after, the pub is where it's at.

Most Melbournians buy beer off tap by the pot (285ml), much to the confusion of Sydneysiders who are accustomed to the schooner (425ml) or the middy (285ml). Anyway, we've all surpassed the drinking habits of older generations, who often swill by the glass (200ml), small (175ml) or pony (140ml). If you're in a group larger than 2 or 3, buying a jug, which holds a bit more than 4 pots, is a more economical choice of purchase.

If beer on tap is not an option, the can or the short stumpy bottle known as the stubbie are the next best thing. Proper bitter is hard to find here, but we love our lagers, and our favourite is VB. It stands for Victoria Bitter, but that famous beer with the green label defies its namesake, because it's technically a lager. Hence, for export to other countries, the product was for many years labelled as Victoria Beer.

One more thing, irrespective of the brand or the season, we like our beer as cold as possible. No bartender falls from grace more quickly than s/he who fails to find the coldest beer in the fridge.

Groups of friends usually take turns to buy a 'round' each. When it's your turn to buy a round, it's also referred to as your 'shout'. Tipping the staff is not obligatory, but sometimes occurs in correlation to level of inebriation.

On to the pub activities. Pool is a popular one, and rules may be different to other Australian states. They may even differ between venues, but securing a table by putting a coin on it, is standard. Heed rules of play carefully, because you may end up running around the table without pants if you lose. Dart boards are sometimes available, as are gambling activities like horse racing (presided over by an organisation called the TAB), and electronic games like Club Keno and the pokies (slot machines). The latter is a relatively recent phenomenon and the cause of much controversy in Victoria, where addiction to pokies has resulted in more than a few social problems. The pinball machine is a more traditional, less destructive alternative, and you'll often find a corner of the pub glowing seductively with pinnies on offer.

Layouts of pubs vary somewhat, but a venue is often split into front bar and bistro. In the case of a traditional pub, the front bar is less aesthetically pleasing, offering simpler, cheaper meals and a limited menu. The bistro has more chairs and tables and more culinary sophistication, with options like pasta, seafood and desserts. Salad/dessert bars are popular too, which makes for good value dining. As far as standard of drinks go, it doesn't vary much between front bar and bistro. And if there are pokies, they will be in a separate room again where you may score free tea/coffee and soft drink to keep you gambling. One side of the pub may house a drive through bottle shop, where you can load up the car with a slab (24 cans of beer) or another choice of beverage upon departure.

Enjoy!





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