If you've lived in Perth all your life and think the best place to go for a drink is a big, brash tavern, try spending three hours with Ryan Mossny one warm summer evening. The Canadian-born tour guide has lived in Perth for the past four years and in that time has learnt more about the city than some of its longest residents.
Mr Mossny and Australian business partner Ryan Zaknich started Two Feet and a Heartbeat walking tours after the idea came to them as they walked through the Supreme Court Gardens on their way to the pub.
The evening was eerily quiet and Mr Zaknich held an informal information session with his friend about the planning decisions that made the city a place of work and not much else. The idea for a tour company was born and when they got to the pub, like all good ideas, it was drawn up on a napkin.
Now the two Ryans run tours a couple of times a week in addition to their day jobs. All the information passed on to walkers was gathered by talking to people, not books or the internet.
They are being noticed in their industry, too, winning a bronze Western Australian Tourism Award in 2008 and a City of Perth Heritage Award.
The tours are similar to the walking tours on offer in European capitals, and as well as learning about Perth and Fremantle you can also discover some of Perth's best hip new watering holes that have popped up in the city over the past few years.
An ambassador for Perth, Mr Mossny also works by taking foreign journalists around town to show them the sights and says his international visitors rave about the city.
"Everybody likes something about the city," he explains. "The Chinese like the space, the Koreans like the food, the Singaporeans like the activities and the fact that we speak English and that there are fewer rules here. I think it is an exciting town."When regular liquor licences were running scarce a few years ago, some selling for a couple of hundred thousand dollars, the State Government allowed the sale of small-bar licences. The catch was that regardless of size, each bar could only hold 120 people and to create diversity, each small bar needed its own distinctive theme.
Mr Mossny says Two Feet and a Heartbeat's Eat, Drink Walk tour caters for groups of six to 12 people, taking them to three small bars over three hours and pointing out others along the way, proving the city that is being rapidly moulded and changed by new arrivals and mining money has a booming nightlife as well.
We started our Eat, Drink, Walk tour at the Canton Lounge on Hay Street. Mr Mossny tells us that before this place was a small bar it was The Old Canton Chinese Restaurant, the first Chinese restaurant in Perth, which opened in 1903 before a massive kitchen fire closed it 10 years ago. In 2009, the new owners transformed it into a small bar, keeping some of the 1970s red-and-white wallpaper and the original pressed tin ceilings to create a fusion of old and new.
The food is described as "hearty" and includes Asian nibbles alongside Australian, Greek, Spanish, Italian and French-inspired dishes.
A standout cocktail is the home-made lemonade; a combination of lemon, Jack Daniels and Cointreau, a little different to the roadside stand variety. Adding to the old-world soul of the place you can discover your inner gentleman at the Canton Lounge by perusing the cigar menu.
While the rest of the city rabidly tries to stamp out graffiti, legitimate graffiti art is seen as a relevant form of expression throughout the world. Mr Mossny explains the mural on the side wall of the Canton Lounge came about when a graffiti artist was caught red-handed in the dead of night while the outdoor area was being finished. The owner saw the kid's talent and commissioned a piece from him, and now koi fish and a dragon are emblazoned on the wall.
The next stop is Helvetica, one of the only bars in Australia where patrons can buy a bottle of whisky that the pub keeps for them to drink on their subsequent visits. It is tucked away in chandelier-lit Howard Lane and the bitumen has been pulled back to display some of the original cobblestones.
Helvetica attracts a mixed crowd, from suited businessmen to sneakered students in a range of ages. It's decked out in wood and there is just the right number of people to move around comfortably. The barman mixes our group a special cocktail called Fish House Punch, which dates back to George Washington's time and tastes deceptively weak despite containing rum, brandy, white wine, peach liqueur and cognac muddled in what looks like an old jar with peaches and lemon juice. Mr Mossny explains hard spirits were the dominant tipple in the 1700s and because of their potency were usually only consumed by men.
The Fish House Punch was invented to encourage women to drink alcohol for reasons Mr Mossny won't divulge, although one can speculate it was probably to encourage a little of the old ankle-flashing. Helvetica provides some cold nibbles, such as corn chips and a lovely fresh home-made salsa.
The tour ends at Cheeky Sparrow. Owned by former Fremantle footballer Peter Bell, it is one of a handful of new bird-themed establishments in the city. Nestled in Wolf Lane, the entrance glows in the warm yellow light of an old-style street lamp erected in the laneway.
Like Howard Lane, some of the original cobblestones have been unearthed and paired with a couple of fresh green pot plants and it looks more like the garden path to someone's house. Cheeky Sparrow is open for breakfast and serves food until late in the night. It's a great find for people who get the munchies after a few drinks.Faux birds' nests adorn the light fittings and the wood decor is warm and welcoming. Food on offer includes a range of pizzas, tapas and salads. There is a pretty good selection of wines and adventurous cocktails.
Filling the spot for fans of the late panini/wine bar Aldas, the clientele is trendy, business-like and casual.
Larger venues in the CBD and Northbridge have tried to combat drunken violence by banning glass, using finger/ID scanners and imposing strict dress standards to minimise the number of people likely to cause trouble from getting inside. Because of their small size and relative obscurity in the mainstream, Perth's small bars have been practically immune from the social problems that arise in large establishments.
Mr Mossny says he loves small bars because their relaxed atmosphere makes him feel welcome. He believes many others would agree.
MORE WATERING HOLES
Two Feet and a Heartbeat also recommend these CBD bars:
XO: specialises in cognacs so much that it takes its name from the "extra old" variety.
Andaluz: offers authentic Spanish tapas and an impressive list of cocktails in an old house with hidden nooks and crannies to get lost in.
Greenhouse: the idea for this environmentally sustainable restaurant/bar was conceived in Melbourne but there was no room for it there so it was moved here.
Food is locally sourced or grown in the rooftop garden and the building itself is made of recycled material like street signs and milk crates. Vegetarians will like the heirloom vegetable salad.
The Aviary: the second-biggest rooftop bar in Australia offers two storeys above the Perth train station. If it isn't packed to bursting, take advantage of the bowling green.
Venn: an art gallery, restaurant and small bar where patrons can get a trendy fixie bike, some hipster shirts, snacks and drinks depending on the time.
1907: a New York-style basement bar with fine dining fare and $10 cocktails on cheap night.
Wolfe Lane Bar: named after the American architect William Wolfe, this upmarket cocktail bar pays homage to the man who designed His Majesty's Theatre.
• Eat Drink Walk Perth tours cost $50 per person. There is also the Fremantle Urban Adventure ($40), Perth Urban Adventure ($40) and Private Group Lunch Tour ($250). There are two shopping tours: Harbourtown Tour ($69) and Murray to King Street Tour ($99). For more information, see twofeet.com.au.