Margaret River’s beloved Settlers Tavern started life in the 1970s as a haven for surfers, riffraff not considered suitable for the pub that serviced the then 1000 residents of the township of Margaret River. Since then, the population has grown six-fold, and Settler’s Tavern has grown with it, becoming a live music hub, as well as a food and wine destination.
With a license for nearly 800 patrons and 1000 meals leaving the kitchen on a busy day, it’d be easy to make some assumptions about what kind of place Settlers Tavern is, and they’d be both right and very, very wrong. A busy, community-minded country pub with live music and family dining, sure, but meshed into that unassuming profile is one of the most thoughtfully conceived and well-executed visions that you’re ever likely to see. The current owners, Karen and Rob Gough, took up the lease of the Settlers in 2003, after a decade together in San Francisco. Rob (an American) worked as a sommelier, and Karen (from Margaret River) imported Australian wine, including Leeuwin Estate and Cullen, into California.
“In 2003, you couldn’t buy any wine from outside Margaret River, couldn’t get a decent coffee, couldn’t get a meal outside the hours of 12–2pm and 6–8pm. We saw a need. We began with a few wines from other states – and were not too popular for that! But how things have slowly changed,” Karen says.
Today, the wine list stands at 600 plus bins, with over 30 available by the glass, including four premium pours from Coravin. And that list is incredibly broad ranging, even with the challenges of sourcing international wines in their remote location. Local wines are naturally well represented, but not just the big players, with up-and-coming makers heavily featured. Natural wines have been highlighted on the list for over a decade, with symbols indicating biodynamic, organic, zero sulphur and vegan credentials.
Everything at the Settlers is recycled, upcycled, recyclable, biodegradable or compostable. Plastic bottles haven’t entered the building since 2003, plastic straws were given the boot in 2010, and it was the first Australian pub to ban smoking indoors. If you happen to be vegetarian, vegan or gluten free, they’ve got you covered, and if you’d prefer an 8-hour cold drip coffee to a pot (sorry, middy) of beer, then that’s fine, too. More than a little progressive, we say.
COVID-19 trading: Settlers Tavern has emerged from the national lockdown with reduced capacity and trimmed hours, mainly due to staff shortages from a lack of working travellers. Owner Karen Gough sums the situation up best: “Back in April, we really thought it might have been all over for us, but now we feel like the luckiest people in the world. We’re still far from out of the woods, and anything could happen, but even at half capacity our business almost feels normal.”