We were driving along the deserted main street of Cooktown on a Sunday evening and looking for a feed. One of the very few places that was open was The Top Pub as it is affectionately known. The real trading name is the Cooktown Hotel. A bloke standing outside beckoned us to stop and enter and I really thought he was a local – far from it. He was a German tourist and on a one man motor cycle trip around Australia and was so freaked out at the prospect of a 300 km + trip along the kangaroo and cattle infested road in the dark to Cairns that he decided to stay at The Top Pub – he also mentioned great German food available, so we went in amid shouts of, “Wanna game,” from a grimy looking bloke wearing tropical rig of singlet, shorts and well worn and dirty boots. Great introduction to a typical country pub.
After we had made it in safety to the rear of the pub we found their menu and after a hasty conference on “What has that got in it,” we gave over our orders to a very helpful young lady from somewhere in Europe. In reality we had seen lots of road killed kangaroos along the road to Cooktown and just wondered about their food source – OK I am joking.
We nodded a g’day to a couple we’d seen at our motel and sort of struck up a conversation trying to make ourselves heard over the loud music. Finally our meals arrived and although I’d ordered chips and salad I got mash and veggies – maybe the kitchen decides on who gets what and not the customer – well they do that sort of thing sometimes and makes for fun meals. We washed down our ample fare with a couple of XXXX and I was reminded of the old joke as to why that is such a popular brew in Queensland – answer, they can’t spell beer.
After our meal I spent a bit of time gazing at a few of the notices and country advertisements on the walls of the pub - see photos.
Fun place for a meal and I was told by the German guy that accommodation is available. “Wanna Game Maaate?”
Although strictly not in Cooktown, the Lions Den Hotel is an iconic country, very country, style pub and much more located on the famous Bloomfield Track 40 kilometres (Lions Den Hotel web site states 28 km) from Cooktown in the “town” of Helenvale – really nothing else at Helenvale.
Now why in the tropics would anyone bother with all the walls in place on a building? What with cyclones, bush fires, heat, humidity, rain – lots of it during the wet season, and a few stray bits of wildlife (careful where you sit/stand) there really is no need for walls everywhere.
The pub really is an icon along the Bloomfield Track and is a must-visit to enjoy a drink/meal/whatever. There’s various standards of accommodation available (sorry, they have never heard of 4 and 5 star rating. Yet someone told the owner about 3 stars and he laughed, so there are 2 other star options available as well as powered and non powered sites for “caravaners” and other self sufficient people) and fuel for the thirsty vehicle (diesel too).
What really makes this place stand out is the walls – well what’s there. EVERY nook and cranny, including the ceilings, are covered with scrawled messages, cast off clothing (I dreaded to think at what goes on after dark – LOL), signs and almost everything else. There’s even a sign made from over 3,000 beer bottle tops and was constructed by a Dutch back-packing tourist while she worked at The Lions Den. We visited around 10am and there seemed to be a steady stream of people making their way to the bar and pool table - maybe they were not so steady - LOL
Talking of work – the hotel employs overseas backpackers (with working visa) to work for a few weeks or even months as they make their way up or down the east coast of Australia. Accommodation is in “dongas” and available. According to 2 overseas backpackers we talked to, it’s a great job working at the Lions Den.
The hotel is totally different to any other pub I’ve ever visited. Not much to look at, but who cares, just enjoy.
One very big plus for the Lions Den - it's not in the mobile (cell) phone coverage area and therefore you will be free of wankers who insist on talking on their phones LOUDLY.
This review is mirrored on the Helenvale site.
In any country community, sometimes and quite unfairly the local bowls club bears the brunt of many jokes. “That’s where all the ‘White Leghorns’ go,” is one I’ve heard. White Leghorns is a reference to the old ladies wearing their white bowling uniform with the spindly brown legs showing underneath all that white. Hardly fair to the older generation who still enjoy their lawn bowls after spending a life time of raising families and all the rest. For many the local bowls club is their centre of life. (note – this is lawn bowls and not 10 pin bowling as popular in the US and other countries)
The Cooktown Bowls Club welcomes guests from all over the world and particularly to their bar and restaurant. Great selection of food and drink at very reasonable prices. Menu is probably best described as “pub grub” and hearty serves seem to be the specialty of the house.
How do they do it? The clubs are run on a not for profit basis and do reap lots of money from the poker (slot) machines. Many of the country clubs simply would not survive without the pokies.