It brings new meaning to the phrase “tear the roof off” – the band room at the Empress Hotel has been opened to the skies to form a new beer garden. The 141-year-old pub was once a live-music stronghold in league with the Espy, the Corner or the Tote. It closed abruptly last December, not due to licensing laws or the frequent noise complaints, but “personal reasons”.

The new owner (Guy David, who also runs Markov in Carlton) plans to reopen in February with space for 420 patrons. Live music won’t be a feature – in fact he’s pulling up the sticky carpets in a quest to return the interior to its pre 1980s glory. Elements including the pressed metal ceilings, red-brick bar and ceramic urinals are all to be retained and restored.

“I live about 50 metres away,” he says. “I never really frequented it in its old state, but I always loved the idea of the old pub in this area.” He’s invited his sister Lucy David (former head chef at Rosa's Kitchen) to oversee a new menu, which will be a mix of pub staples and Italian fare, such as pasta and pizza served on wooden boards.

“You'll still have to get up and order at the bar,” David says. “I want it to be a real pub.” In a nod to the area’s craft-beer-loving status, he’s also installing 15 taps.

Despite living around the corner, David only heard the venue was for sale through friend Michael Costanzo, who co-owns DOC. “His mate is a real-estate agent, and he was trying to find a buyer,” David says. “As soon as I heard, I said, ‘Give me his number’.”

His first few offers were knocked back and eventually the business was sold to someone else. David was devastated, and even more so when he walked past and saw the new tenants were replacing the roof on the band room. “I looked up and I got so upset that I’d missed out,” he says.

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He found the original owner’s number, called them directly, and outlined his plans for the new beer garden. They loved it, but more importantly, they hadn't signed any contracts yet and they gave the pub to David at the final hour. “I got lucky, but at the same time, I was aggressive,” he says.

The Empress Hotel will reopen in February 2015. Be a part of the opening team and apply for the roles on Scout, Broadsheet's new employment website.

Empress Hotel
714 Nicholson Street, Fitzroy North