Current Issue #488

Beer and Other Sins: Surviving a heatwave at the Red Lion

Climate change and beer giveaways bring out the best and thirstiest of Adelaide’s north.

They like new faces here, the bartender says as she reaches for my empty glass. She hasn’t seen me here before and wants to know if I’m here for dinner. I tell her I’m not and I’m just after a drink.

Good thing too, she says, as they’re fully booked tonight. Wednesdays are busy days on their weekly calendar. Fridays and Sundays, too. People come in for the stone grill, a piece of 300 gram rump steak that you gently cook yourself on a stone that has been heated for 48 hours. Sort of like Korean barbecue.

There’s a bit of a lull right now though with a dozen people sitting around in the bar. Up on the wall is a flat screen television tuned into Millionaire Hot Seat. Eddie McGuire is asking his contestants about the two colours of fat in the human body. In the room behind us, the pokie machines sing and rattle.

The bartender asks if I want another drink, but I’m already two in so I turn her down. The staff here are good like that. Experience has taught them how drinking is a serious business and also that they should take no guff from the patrons who come in for their nightly knock off.

Take the guy sitting at the bar a couple of stools over. He’s in hi-vis and keeps trying to offload a $50 gift card onto another member of the staff. He’s got no use for it, he says, and she tells him no, but when he pushes, she’s quick to assert herself.

“Fuck off,” she says and so ends the conversation.

An old guy with greying stubble walks in wearing a bandana, baggie grey t-shirt and loose-fitting blue work pants. All the staff greet him warmly by name. It’s part of the atmosphere they work to create. The old hotel might be in the beer and steak business, but community is what its management is really trying to sell.

The temperature might be cool on this Wednesday evening, but a couple of weeks back that wasn’t the story. In the week leading up to January 24, the pub’s manager, Stephen Firth, got on the radio and started talking about how if the temperature rose above 45 degrees, drinks were on the house.

What he didn’t say was that there was a cap on the number of glasses and the type of beers, but the promotion was reported from Adelaide to London.

A warming planet meant that when the day in question came, it was as if Satan himself had turned up to spread himself out across the entire metropolitan area. The temperature that day reached a record high and peaked earlier than expected.

Across Adelaide, homeless shelters had gone on red alert, air-conditioning repairmen were on call and cars broke down along major highways. The ice in the Ice Arena started to melt at about 36 degrees and nearly turned to slush but for the efforts of a ring-in technician who managed to squeeze a little more juice out of the chillers.

Muoi, a shop owner at Elizabeth north, has been handing out free water to those waiting in line at the Red Lion. #adelaide #heatwave

— Royce Kurmelovs (@RoyceRk2) January 24, 2019

As for the Red Lion Hotel, the bar hit capacity well before 1 pm. With the car park full and a line out the door, security waved through any news crew that turned up with a camera to film the local colour.

What the cameras couldn’t show was how the air conditioning inside struggled to handle the cumulative body heat.

“Fuck this,” one man in hi-vis said as he walked out the door. “I’d be happy to pay $10 for a drink if there was decent air conditioning.”

Not long after, it was announced the place had been drunk dry. Around 681 litres of beer had been drunk in a rush that was entirely unexpected, Firth later told one reporter.

When the pictures went live, people on social media cracked jokes about the lengths those in Elizabeth would go to for a drink.

Sure, the neighbourhoods around the Red Lion recorded an unemployment rate of 23.4 per cent in the three months to until September 2018. While that figure has been falling slightly by a fraction of a per cent over time, it still means roughly one in four are unemployed.

It didn’t matter to the keyboard cowboys that the majority of the people there that day were employed.

Muoi Pham, 60, wouldn’t put up with it. Pham owns a block of shops across the road and had quit the line after a couple of minutes.

“This is bullshit,” Pham said and came back five minutes later with a slab of ice-cold bottled water on his shoulder which he handed out for free.

“You don’t treat people like this.”

Pham wasn’t wrong, but then, as some might say, Firth wasn’t running a charity. Community may be priced at $7.50 a pint, but free publicity is priceless.


Royce Kurmelovs

Royce Kurmelovs

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Royce Kurmelovs is an Australian freelance journalist and author of The Death of Holden (2016), Rogue Nation (2017) and Boom and Bust (2018).

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