Cricketer Merv Hughes’ guide to the best pubs in Victoria

Travelling Well | Megan Whitfield | Posted on 07 November 2019

Cricket great Merv Hughes says these Victorian pubs are batting above average.

Aussie sporting legend Merv Hughes knows a thing or two about cricket. Representing Australia from 1985 to 1994, he made a name for himself through his mischievous sense of humour, magnificent handlebar moustache – and a cool 212 wickets over 53 test matches. Not to mention his iconic hat-trick against the West-Indies at the WACA in 1988-89.

His career took him around the world, and to his fair share of local cricket clubs. As a result, he also knows a thing or two about local pubs – and what makes a winning one. 

“At the end of the day, all you’re looking for is a relaxed, laidback atmosphere," Merv says. "For me, if you can go to a pub, have a nice meal and catch up with some friends – you’re going to return.”

Live music is a bonus on a cruisy Saturday or Sunday afternoon and, of course, having the right beers on tap is a must. But the ultimate test? The parma, of course. “If I want to test a pub, or I’m trying a new place, I’ll always order the parmigiana. You’ve got to!”

From Port Fairy to Gippsland, we asked Merv what makes a quality pub, and where to find Victoria’s finest.


Slides: Rifle Club Hotel in Bendigo, Great Ocean Road Brewhouse and the Apollo Bay Hotel.


Six of the best pubs in Victoria, according to Merv Hughes


PORT FAIRY

Star of the West

One of Merv’s personal favourites, this is the pub to beat. In picture-perfect Port Fairy you’ll find the Star of the West, a local haunt of Merv’s for more than 20 years. Built in 1856, the two-storey building wrapped in a wide verandah occupies a prominent corner spot and regularly hosts local musicians.

“There’s fantastic food, a good front bar, and during winter they’ve always got the footy on. It’s very easy to spend a Saturday afternoon there.”

APOLLO BAY

Great Ocean Road Brewhouse

Head down to Apollo Bay and you’re spoilt for choice, with two solid options – the ‘top pub’ and the ‘middle pub’, nicknamed to match their locations in town. 

With more than 100 craft beers on offer, the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse (the ‘top’ pub), with its dog-friendly beer garden, is the perfect place to while away a few hours with mates. Soak up views of the ocean and sample some of the region’s best local wines and produce in a lively atmosphere. If you’re lucky, you’ll also catch some live music. 

Apollo Bay Hotel

If a relaxed afternoon with the family is more up your alley, head over to the Apollo Bay Hotel. With an outdoor dining area, the pub offers a wide selection of wines and boutique beers, along with all the classic counter meal staples.

In 2018 the Apollo Bay Hotel was awarded ‘Best Regional Pub Bar’ in the AHA Annual State Awards for Excellence and is nominated again for 2019.

“They’re both very good pubs. Each year in January [the family and I] go up to Apollo Bay, and you can always find the locals here.”

Cricketer Merv Hughes in his cricket whites circa 1990

Moustachioed Merv ‘Handlebar’ Hughes circa 1990.


Exterior view of white-painted brick pub on street corner with neon beer sign

He loves the Apollo Bay Hotel.


Tasting paddle with five different beers

A good selection of brews is essential.


EAST GIPPSLAND 

The Nicholson

Another Merv Hughes summer favourite is the Nicholson Hotel in the town of Nicholson, near Bairnsdale. A bistro, bar and motel, it offers a peaceful retreat on the bank of the Nicholson River after a long day out on the boat. Aiming to provide “country hospitality at country prices”, expect friendly staff, a pool table, dartboard and regular happy hour bringing locals and visitors together.

“I’m a creature that likes a bit of comfort,” says Merv. “This pub offers that, and a nice cold beer.” 

ESSENDON 

The Lincolnshire Arms Hotel

‘The Linc’ for those in the know, the Lincolnshire Arms Hotel has been Merv’s local for years and remains his destination of choice to catch up with friends. The bar has more than 20 beers on tap and by the bottle, as well as a designated sports bar and an outdoor area. And of course, a solid parma. 

“Whenever I’m going to meet someone for a drink near home, I suggest there. There’s good food, good drink and a TAB sports bar where we can watch the game.” 

BENDIGO 

Rifle Brigade Hotel

It’s not hard to find a quality local in the goldfields region, but for Merv, you can’t go past Bendigo’s Rifle Brigade Hotel

Serving locals since 1887, the pub has recently been restored to its glory days, including a new function space upstairs. From lemon pepper squid to house-made popcorn chicken with chipotle aioli, the Brigade is the perfect place to share a meal over a few drinks. It’s even better with live music. On a summer evening, the balcony makes a particularly relaxed spot. 

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