In these days of slick marketing and contrived brand development, it’s refreshing to see someone whose brand, quite literally, is himself. Such is the case with Dale Barber, a straight talking Australian whose no frills pub bears the truly iconic name of The Swagman.
Dale was born in a small town called Tangambalanga in Victoria living beside his parents’ busy pub which served food and offered accommodation. His pub career began with washing ashtrays and clearly he loved it; he recalls leaving his snug bed and ‘breaking in’ late at night to help with the clean up! After the pub, the family opened a fish and chip shop. As chief potato peeler, Dale quickly acquired the nickname ‘Spud’ but the experience put him off the humble spud for life.
Leaving school as soon as he could, Dale tried a few different jobs but the pub and food trade always seemed to win out. He gained invaluable experience in Queensland working in a coalmining town; a serious place for qualifications from ‘the university of life’. Inevitably the travel bug bit and Dale headed for England where he met Sinead, now his wife, in 1995.
Dale and Sinead have had some wonderful travel experiences together, spending a year travelling around Oz in a camper van. Their journeys through north America and Asia sound like pages from a dreamy travel catalogue. Their plan was to return to London to work but a trip to Ireland for a 21st scuppered that, and they decided to stay.
After a few years working in various pubs and kitchens, Dale’s skill at the pizza oven came to the fore. He became a partner in the very successful Bistro Bianconi. Buoyed up by the Celtic Tiger they expanded in to Galway and Dublin but sadly the recession stopped them in their tracks.
Hearing on the grapevine about a pub looking for new owners, Dale began thinking about setting up on his own. His parents happened to be over on holiday giving him the benefit of his Dad’s experienced opinion too. After some serious thinking Dale and Sinead took the plunge. She came up with the name, and six years ago The Swagman on Wine Street was born.
There’s a rustic charm to the pub that is completely genuine, as is the warm welcome from the owners. Prompted by Dale’s own interests, The Swagman embraced craft beers years before they became fashionable and now offers something like 118 different options. No craft beer snobs here, just bar staff who know their stuff and enjoy sharing it with customers. The food is simple but good – a daily special ‘soul in a bowl’, a roast of the day and of course a dozen different types of pizza. The Kangaroo on the menu is a nod to Dale’s heritage.
Rural Sligo rather than the outback is now home to this relaxed Aussie and his family and he seems more than happy with his lot.