The inner west is renowned for its funky pubs that are frequented by blokes with beards and hip sheilas sporting tattoos, eating dude food and drinking craft beer. These are the sort of pubs where if you threw little kids into the mix, the inner city hipsters may choke on their reuben sandwich or Young Henrys hop ale. I read an article recently where a hipster was quoted saying that children should not be allowed into "his" beer garden on a Saturday afternoon as it spoiled the atmosphere - it was a pub not a playground. Fair enough. I can completely understand, I would not have wanted a 3 year old screaming past me back in my childless days either whilst I was throwing back a chardy or two at my local.
So just as it is with finding child friendly cafes, where parents with kids won't spoil the dining experience of those with out, I am also on a mission to find pubs that welcome families, because if you are like me, you need both caffeine and wine in copious quantities to deal with the daily dilemmas of being a parent.
Now I have found quite a few pubs in the suburbs who Love families with a capital L, but I hadn't found anything in the hipster belt of Sydney. That was until a very hip inner city Mumma let me know about the Henson! The Henson is terribly funky, it is staffed by blokes with beards and tatts and perky young lasses, it does serve dude food and craft beer BUT it also welcomes kids with open arms! From the moment you walk in the door (actually the back gate) you know you have entered funky pub nirvana for families.
So why is the Henson so kid friendly? Lets start with the dedicated area for stroller parking, then the child proof lock on the gate into the place, look left and you will find a dedicated kids play room painted in vibrant murals, kitted out with a black board, toys and a ball/foam pit that has a rock climbing board that leads up into the beer garden (they have converted an old garage to make the play room). Then you have the giant abacus outside of the play room. Look around the beer garden and you will find quite a few brightly coloured tables specifically for kids to eat on - you will also start to notice how funky this place is, with the vertical gardens, lemon trees and herb pots mixing with the recycled timber and industrial seating.
Then you walk inside and you're immediately greeted by the super friendly staff who most certainly aren't fazed by little bulls in angry bird caps who look meaner than the angry birds because their parents dragged them inside to the air conditioning (it was a bit too hot outside for the said pale skinned parents).
The staff found us a perfectly cool spot amongst all of the reserved tables (it's a good idea to book in advance as this place is incredibly popular on weekends). We sat on bar stools at a high table, the little bulls were suitably impressed thinking that they were the real dudes in the place and started a game of Frisbee with the beer coasters!
From our perch we took in the surroundings of this oh so cool pub. There were families everywhere, of all shapes and sizes, some hip some not so hip, and they were all having a great time. Even though this art deco pub retains all of its yesteryear charm on the outside it has been given a real spruce up on the inside. A long communal table runs down the centre with booth and bar table seating running along the back wall. Black and white tiling combined with a forest green lick of paint and rustic bric a brac, add to the charm of the space.
We were given menus - one for adults and one for children and told to order up at the bar when we were ready. The dedicated kids menu had some yummy sounding options on it, something basically to please all tastes.
The little bulls had the Real Fish Fingers and Chips for lunch, and then Frozen Banana Chocolate Pops as a special treat. As for drinks - well there is a help yourself water station where you take a red plastic jug and fill it up with tap water, from the tap on the wall and then you take as many plastic tumblers as you need, back to your perch. Perfect for quenching the thirst of little ones on a hot day. For Mummas and Pappas there is great range of both craft and normal beer, as well as an decent wine list that has so many more interesting choices than your typical Tyrells/Jacobs Creek choices that you find at most pubs.
The adult menu offers some seriously good pub food. We opted for the burgers at $16.00 - Beef Burger: manchengo, lettuce, B&B cucumbers, beetroot relish and chips; Blackened Barramundi Burger: coleslaw, tomato, dill pickles and chips. The burgers came on delicious brioche buns, which seems to be all the rage these days. Some other items that may tempt you are the 1/2 kilo of buttermilk chicken wings with verde picante or the Dirty Bird - 1/2 flame grilled ten spice chicken, yellow rice and raw slaw. There are some delicious sounding salads, vegetarian and Asian inspired options for those of you who aren't in to the dude food movement.
The service was brilliant at the Henson. From the moment we walked in, until the moment we left, all staff were engaging, friendly and down to earth. They may look like hipsters, but there certainly wasn't any hipster attitude emanating from them. I spied a couple arrive, sans children and they had a wee look of dismay on their face when they saw how full the place was and also I presume the sight of all the kiddliwinks running around - the manager (?) quickly greeted them and ushered them into the public bar at the front of the pub and advised them that they could eat their lunch in there in air conditioned peace and quiet. Smart move! I was also surprised at how quickly our food was served. The place was almost full when we arrived and I thought for sure we would have to wait, but no, the kitchen certainly had its act together and our meals were pumped out quite quickly.
There are loads of high chairs at the Henson for funky little bottoms to sit on, plenty of room for prams and as I said said earlier, stroller parking out near the play room. The 'Ladies and Kids' room contains a baby change table if you need it - so basically I think all of the child friendly boxes have been ticked!
So thank you to the Henson for being such a funky child friendly pub. Thank you for welcoming those of us that are hip and those of us that are not. Just because you grew up and decided to have kids should not mean that you ain't allowed to hang out in the hipster belt, so go forth people and multiply as the Henson will always welcome you and your burgeoning brood x
So tell me dear parents are you a hipster, and if so, where are your hip hang outs that welcome kids?
91 Illawarra Rd, Marrickville NSW 2204
(enter from around the corner in Chapel St)
02 95695858 (booking recommended!)