Meet Surly’s, the emerging bar sure to be your new High St local

Get the latest from Beat


Meet Surly’s, the emerging bar sure to be your new High St local

Words by Tammy Walters

Whether you’re just keen on a beer after work, or down for a weekend sesh, Surly’s Bar is the new hotspot for you.

Paying homage to the ever-grumpy and cynical Simpsons’ Duff Beer mascot, Surly Duff, Surly’s Bar is a welcome spot for locals to wet their whistle.

The brainchild of Preston locals, Matt Evans and Sarah Russell, Surly’s showcases the partnership’s shared 15-year hospitality expertise, creating a bar that prides itself on its intimacy and intrinsic familiarity.

Evans brings the pub culture experience, having cut his teeth at The Rose Hotel in Fitzroy before discovering his passion for craft beer at The Fox in Collingwood. Most recently, he assisted in the cultivation and curation of 12 taps at Stray Neighbour, a fellow Preston watering hole.

Keen for more Melbourne reads? Subscribe to Beat here and we’ll send them straight to your inbox.

Russell is a restaurant all-rounder having worked at some of Melbourne’s most prestigious fine dining venues, including Movida, Bistro Gitan and Osteria Ilaria, before getting a taste for the hops at Mountain Goat Brewery Bar and Stray Neighbour.

“Sarah and I have been living in Preston for about five or six years now. I always had High Street in Preston earmarked as a cool place to open something because there are a couple of cool restaurants and takeaway places,” Evans explains.

“We’d been looking for a venue for quite some time. We never thought we would build something – we always thought we would take over an existing business – but we looked at this place and it was the right size, the right location, affordable and we just went for it!”

Russell undertook the majority of the renovations herself – sanding, polishing and lacquering the floors and tiling and plastering the walls. The couple recruited Anthony Hamilton Smith (responsible for the stunning bars at Long Play and Amarillo), to design the main attraction – the bar – which was then built by Nick O’Brien of VN Projects.

Filling out the space with mismatched furniture courtesy of Facebook Marketplace, Surly’s offers an old-school vibe, full of eccentric character.

“Sarah has been a big part of what has made the place come to life. We wanted it to look like it had been there for a while, like a ’30s, ’40s, or even ’50s post-war bar, where even the furniture has scuffs and has been kicked in,” Evans says.

“We wanted it all to feel like it’s been there for a while, with an understated charm. We wanted that old-school fit out, but in a bar style.”

Outside of the quirky interior, the dog-friendly venue boasts a relaxed beer garden, perfect for a cheeky after-work pitstop. There’s an emphasis on local craft beer, quality affordable wines and classic cocktails, including recent special: a honey and toffee-infused vodka concoction, ‘The Pavlova’.

The bar doesn’t offer in-house food, but they support their fellow High Street takeaway places, encouraging patrons to grab a pizza from Don Antonio’s next door or some scrumptious Indian food from Maharaja two doors down. Uber Eats to dine-in is also an option.

The aim of Surly’s Bar is to build a Cheers-like community, keeping all things local – from the regulars seated around the curved bar, to championing neighbourhood eateries and sourcing local brews on tap.

“Even though we are a bar, we want that pub vibe,” Evans says. “Out here in Preston, with such a local community, we wanted to have that regular vibe where if you live in the area you can pop down by yourself and have a beer and chat with us. We have footy tipping going and are just trying to foster a community, and be your little local neighbourhood bar.”

Although Surly’s opened in December 2019, the business only had a four-month lifespan before lockdown kicked in. Now, the bar is reopened for business and treating this period as their unofficial relaunch.

“Only being open for four months and then having to close down it seemed like when we reopened it, we started again. But the local support, the Preston community and the northern community really rally behind their small businesses, so when we reopened it was much busier than we expected!” Evans recalls.

“It was really humbling and really heartwarming to see all these locals and all these people who had only been here for four months have a real affinity for us and really throw their support behind us.”

If you don’t have anything on for the weekend, now is the perfect time to become acquainted with your new local, perhaps even get in on the footy tipping!

Surly’s Bar is open weekly from Wednesday to Sunday, til late. For more info, check out their website or hit them up on Instagram.