Having moved into the heritage-listed Masonic hall in 2012, The Brunswick Mess Hall is a bit of an all-rounder. A beer barn with surprisingly great food and a historic atmosphere with a young, vivacious vibe, it's the kind of place to go for a quiet (mid-week or early evening) date, or a weekend birthday party for 20 complete with $100 punch bowls big enough to fit your entire head (I'm sure it's happened before).
On weekend afternoons, or mid-week evenings, you get the chance to appreciate the atmosphere and beauty of the building: an expansive banquet table, exposed beams, huge arched windows and plenty of colourful graffiti art is completed with creeping ivy and an atrium perfect for a pre-dinner drink. The dining experience is just as relaxed. The ordering system spells trouble for the over-eager; make your menu selections on a piece of paper and hand it in at the bar, just go easy on the box-ticking as the dishes are fairly generous in size. Asian favourites abound, featuring the likes of pan-fried pork, shrimp and shiitake mushroom gyoza ($16 for four), chilli lime stuffed chicken wings ($15.50), crispy tofu with miso and a seaweed and black sesame dressing ($11.50) and crispy pork belly served on Asian greens ($28.50) — all perfect for sharing.
On Friday and Saturday nights things get heavy. The music is pumped up beyond conversation levels and the increasingly colourful party crew of the north revels in it. A narrow outdoor courtyard provides some respite, but may see you being squeezed towards the toilets at one end before long — unless of course you're one of the 'it crowd', in which case you'll already know exactly where to sit, stand or pose at this place.
If you find yourself in the middle of a scene you thought you'd left behind, either order a Death in the Afternoon punch bowl (tequila and absinthe... in the same bowl) and just get amongst it, or try Little Mess next door. The more intimate sister bar provides a calmer, quieter and vaguely edgier alternative for when the Hall gets a bit too rowdy.