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Pokies and topless ladies no more, but this is still the place to be in Petersham.

Most Inner Westies had driven past it a million times. Few had been in. Many had scoffed. Certainly, The Oxford Tavern has been a well-known Petersham establishment for decades. But only now — stripped of its scantily clad reputation — is it making a name for itself for the right reasons. And it's well deserved.

Known originally for its topless barmaids, cheap booze and pokie machines, the Tav was last year bought by booming Sydney company Drink 'n' Dine (responsible for the rejuvenation of The Forresters, Norfolk and Carrington). And it has quickly cleaned up its act. The Oxford Tavern is now an all-out American BBQ beer house, complete with sport, eats and beer garden out back.

Although perhaps a little exxy at first glance, the menu boasts a healthy mix of Aussie pub classics and American-style BBQ feeds. On offer are asado steak tacos (with house-made tortillas) and chook san choy bow, as well as pub staples like schnittys, steak and an absolutely monstrous, stadium-sized double dawg.

The Hickory Burger is excellent — reminiscent of Mary’s Newtown — and ‘Dino’s Charcoal Chicken’ (chook served with rice, beans and tortillas or chips 'n' slaw) will have those a little chilli-shy sweating their way through the rest of the evening. Each day at the Tav brings with it a new special: $3 tacos on Wednesdays, $10 burgers on Thursdays and, just like The Norfolk, $10 counter lunches from noon till 3pm, Monday through to Friday.

There are cocktail gems, including a Swinging Tit (pisco, sage, hibiscus and pineapple); however, it's undeniable that the Oxford Tavern is a place built on beer. Set against a soundtrack of some very bangin' tunes (despite proving a little loud inside for mid-week dinner) the uber-relaxing beer garden begs for many a Sunday sesh — though the lack of outdoor sports screens may prove a disappointment for some.

While the cramped bathrooms leave little to be desired, original neon signage out front and stripper poles (now worked into parts of the bar and the tables) provide a delightful reminder of the Tav's previous charm — a lingering sense of what came before. Oh, and anyone feeling particularly nostalgic can cop a feel of the Jelly Wrestle: a mountain of vanilla ice-cream, whipped cream, candied popcorn, raspberry and chocolate syrup, sprinkles, toasted waffles and red, blue and green jelly. Yes, they used to have jelly wrestling here and, yes, it is best not to think about it.

For the many mourning the loss of The Abercrombie, this infamous I-dub watering hole provides relief — a very similar, grunge vibe perfect for those who like their Sydney pubs with character (and just the right amount of boob).

The Oxford Tavern caters for functions of 10 or more people. The Tav BBQ runs every Friday to Sunday onwards, from midday till its goneski.

Published on December 12, 2013 by Mairead Armstrong

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