Once, not so long ago, the Empire Hotel on the corner of Parramatta Road was the sort of place you’d hurry past in case trouble came stumbling out of one of the doorways and found you. But it’s amazing the effect a lick of paint, some fancy chairs and a smattering of silk flowers can have on a place. A formerly dank interior has been transformed into the mother of all parlours. There’s a working fireplace, a vast collection of frosted-glass, Art Deco light fixtures, velvet chaises longues and high-backed leather armchairs. And boy do they love a feature wall. There’s cream wallpaper decorated with black flowers, leaf prints, and some that are painted blood-red with an ornate silver decals. All this candle-lit splendour and gentrified comfort gives the place significant visual appeal, but it’s the craft beers that are really pulling the new crowd. The taps change weekly but on our visit we have the pick of the Riverside 55 summer ale, Dalgetty pale ale, Rocket Science’s Japanese-inspired Belgian witbier, Coopers extra strong vintage, Murray’s golden ale and Holgate porter – where to start? The cheapest full-strength schooner is VB for $5.40; you can drop $10.20 on the vintage Coopers; or order four tasting glasses for $12. Around in the public bar they tone down the opulence and add more familiar bar furnishings like plasma screens, sports memorabilia and historic photos. And if the beers aren’t calling your name, the bistro does two-for-one specials on Sunday and Monday nights. Bargain.