For the team behind the Port Admiral Hotel, assuming ownership of the iconic corner pub meant more than simply adding another venue to their collective portfolio. They see themselves as custodians in the truest sense.
The Portside venue has been resurrected by Clever Little Tailor partners Crispian Fielke, Josh Baker and Dana Whyte; Low & Slow owners Angus Henderson, Jim Morrison and Angus Kiley; and Whistle & Flute chef Stewart Wesson.
It’s one of two recent re-openings – along with Hindley Street’s West Oak Hotel – driven by revivalism and nostalgic longing for that classic pub feel. “It’s an homage to the ’80s, when pubs were booming, before gambling came in,” says Henderson.
Somewhere between the pokies and the gastro pubs of the early 2000s, the glamorous multi-room makeovers and the current fad of faux-eclecticism, much of Adelaide’s pub scene lost its soul. "There used to be so much hospitality and love and care and thought … You felt welcome all the time,” says Henderson. The team is out to restore that.
They’re reviving the long diminished role of the publican, bringing the personal service honed in their various ventures. They'll be on deck, pulling beers, sizzling steaks and chatting with locals.
“I think a pub should be pretty straightforward and approachable – in every sense,” Henderson says. “You can wear thongs or shorts or high-vis. You can bring your grandma, or you can bring your grandchildren, or you can bring your dog.”
There are schnitties on the menu (“they’ve got to be on there,” says Henderson), fish and chips and slow-cooked meats. It’s regulation pub dining, done to satisfy modern expectations. As well as the back-of-house kitchen, an open-fire barbeque burns in the former Saloon Bar. There’s (thankfully) no veggie stack, but vegetarian and vegan options have not been overlooked. “It’s not mushrooms on a burger. We’ve got really good vegetarian and vegan food.”
Pirate Life Brewing has contributed a house lager – The Port Local – which is sold as draught and in tinnies, and there’s a connected bottle shop, run by Christian Mular (ex-East End Cellars). It’s a cut above nearby competitors. Take a bottle home or enjoy it with your meal.
The bar decor is intentionally low-key. A few choice pieces that reflect the building’s past have been collected by designers Crafty Design (Shobosho, Crack Kitchen), but otherwise the interior is uncluttered – ready to be filled by the colour and stories of its customers.
During the planning stages, each of the business partners tabled memories of days spent down the pub. For Henderson it was particularly sentimental. “My dad used to drink here when I was little,” he says. He recalls the way his father spoke about the hotel closing, and that it was one of the key reasons the family moved away from the port. “This was the beating heart of the area for many, many years,” he explains. “When [the previous publican] David Clarke closed the doors, that heart stopped.”
The Port Admiral is far from the only hotel in Port Adelaide. The renovation has been designed to attract a new, younger crowd to the area – those who might drink or dine at one of its associated city venues – but also re-draw some old regulars.
Henderson speaks with passion about reopening the Port's favourite watering hole, but also a sense of responsibility. He understands the area. He grew up around the corner. Low & Slow just turned two, and in that time he’s established relationships with neighbouring operators, and some of the neighbourhood characters. “They know that we’re here to stay and that we care about the area," he says. “No one is worried about stealing business. It’s all about supporting business.”
“There’s so much spirit and energy and community love. People are so happy for it to be happening again.”
Port Admiral Hotel opens today.
Port Admiral Hotel
55 Commercial Road, Port Adelaide
Mon to Fri 11am–late
Sat & Sun 9am–late