We sit down for a drink with the Melbourne publican who took out Pub of the Year at the 2017 Time Out Pub Awards.
Cardigan Street corner pub the Lincoln is almost as old as Melbourne itself. It has existed in many incarnations since being built in 1854 (including a brief stint as an Abraham Lincoln-themed boozer during the Second World War, to appeal to the troops in the nearby US army camp); and its latest is a relaxed, thoroughly modern local where punters are as welcome to come in and drink a pot of draught at the bar as they are to sit down to a dry-aged sirloin and chips. Iain Ling (ex-manager of MoVida Aqui) took over the pub six years ago with the vision to transform it into the local of his dreams.
Iain, what changes did you make to the Lincoln when you took over?
It was more of a higher-end dining restaurant, whereas we’re like, ‘cool, come ‘round, have a beer, have a chat, have a bowl of chips’. The idea was to have really good products but more relaxed service and atmosphere. So we spent our expendable cash of changing the kitchen around a lot… and our chefs are from MoVida and Cutler & Co. It’s a pretty young team, and we try to harness that energy.
What was the reaction from the community once you relaxed the atmosphere of the pub?
We have a really loyal set of regulars now, and it’s the place that people will pop in for a beer by themselves and know the people at the bar, which I think is important for a pub. It’s my old school English mentality, where it doesn’t matter if you’re with mates or by yourself, it should be welcoming and easy. To have that conversation – hey mate, how was your day – is really important.
In such a competitive hospitality industry, how do you maintain this old school pub atmosphere while staying relevant?
[The question is] how do we make pubs modern – how do we make them into 21st century beings? They’re the ones that built this city, they’re the ones that fed the workforces… but why are pubs not doing as well as they were? I can only talk about what we do. We try and have a modern offering, with interesting beers, good wines by the glass. And it’s got to be clean and tidy.
We also try to do interesting things, like collaborations with friends. Recently we had the head chef at Embla cook… and we do a bit of charity world as well. We hosted the Scarf seasons, who offer on-the-job training to high risk groups.