My friend works next to 44 Stanley so, naturally, during the past few years, Stanley Beer Yard became ingrained in our relationship.
Apart for meeting him to whinge about our individual lives or celebrate happy announcements, Stanley Beer Yard also became a place where I went to celebrate the odd birthday.
I even used its familiarity to act as a lightning rod during the awkwardness of a first date. The Beer Yard was, essentially, part of my urban family. When it closed for a total revamp earlier this year, I got nervous.
It’s almost like that friend we all have who boldly announces they’re going to South Korea to teach for a year. Often, you know that the dynamics of the friendship are going to change.
But the relaunch of the beer yard, under the name Calexico, last month is proof that those fears are often unwarranted.
The beer yard was famous for its vinyl Sundays and as a performance space for live artists. That hasn’t changed, mostly because Calexico isn’t under new management – it’s simply the soul of the beer yard with a fresh new look.
Co-owners Larry Hodes and Michael Vacy-Lyle think the new restaurant is an eclectic mix of Americana-style food, decor and music – staying true to the nature of Stanley Beer Yard. But Calexico isn’t just a portmanteau.
Calexico is a border city in California between America and Mexico, as well as the name of a band that was of equal inspiration. Calexico is an Americana, indie, country, folk and latin rock band from Arizona. Their music style is a blend of southern Californian and Mexican-inspired sounds.
“Calexico has its roots in great music and, being first and foremost a vinyl lounge, we decided to include a vinyl wall full of records from legendary musicians. We have included a classic record player, where patrons are welcome to play their own choice of vinyl during the day,” says Hodes.
But what’s good music without good food? The menu combines Mexican staples like corn, jalapeno and chimichurri with very American pairings like BBQ-sauce drenched meats, coleslaw and good old-fashioned apple pie.
The one-page menu is easy to navigate and offers something for everyone (although the Beer Yard’s chicken trinchado will be missed). Appetisers include nachos with Pico de Gallo and smashed avo, a tangy spinach, feta and sun-dried tomato Quesadilla and a particularly good (and very American) hot artichoke and jalapeno dip with tortilla chips.
Moving on to buns, you have the option between a particularly juicy pulled-chicken or, for the brave, the double, double Bourbon cheese burger. For mains you have four options, served with either one or two sides.
Vegetarians will appreciate the unami perfection of the BBQ wild mushroom skewers, while meat-eaters have a choice between a chipotle rotisserie-style chicken, BBQ pork ribs (which made the transition from beer yard to Calexico without losing any of its fall-off-the-bone appeal) and a 300g dry aged sirloin with a particularly herby Chimchurri. Dessert is all-American with a choice between brownies and apple pie.
While the beer and wine list includes old favourites like Brixton Bitter, Rekorderlig and OC Brewery, there’s focus on cocktails as well, starting with a margarita, of course. Other cocktails include a Bourbon-laced Old Fashioned, Cuba Libre (or Rum and Coke), Mojito and a slinging Moscow Mule.
It’s good to welcome back a friend, who returns refreshed after some time away.