Visiting “every pub in Melbourne” in the name of research is a noble if extreme undertaking. But for publican Vincent Magrath, it was part of a quest to create his version of the ultimate pub at North Melbourne’s historical Central Club Hotel, which reopened earlier this month.
In the two years Magrath spent on what might be the biggest pub crawl in history, his biggest takeaway was that pubs have to do a lot more than they used to. “The pub scene has changed,” he told Broadsheet, “It has to be food focused”.
Having worked as a wine-seller in Ireland before moving to Melbourne, where he spent over 10 years running a wine distribution business, Magrath knows his drinks.
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The new list at Central Club Hotel – with the exception of Guinness, Magrath’s “little sprinkle of Irishness” – is made up of entirely Australian beers, wines and spirits, and there’s a particular focus on under-the-radar drops from producers like Thick As Thieves, Rouleur and Thistledown.
Magrath says he “lost sleep” over the food menu. But after many restless nights, he’s created an offering designed to please, with pub classics like fish’n’chips, fried chicken burgers and steaks from the grill alongside pastas and vegan options, such as pumpkin steak, a veggie burger and vegan chocolate mousse.
The pasta – used in dishes like beef-ragu fettuccine and crab linguini – is hand-rolled in-house, and steaks are sourced from suppliers at the market, including butcher Hagen’s Organics.
Being across the street from the Queen Victoria Market means something to Magrath, who wants the pub to be a place where market workers hang out. He recalls a diner ordering the chicken parmigiana while the chicken farmer who supplied the meat sat across the room having a drink at the bar.
Downstairs is the Depot Bar – an intimate, jewel toned whisky bar in an old keg room. The name is a nod to the building’s earlier life as a depot for horse-drawn taxis (Magrath says the place dates back to 1869), and the theme, loosely speaking, is “time”. A drinks menu developed by bar manager Sam Rose will focus on whisky drinks and classic Prohibition-era cocktails. Framed newspaper clippings about the hotel will adorn the walls, reminding guests of the building’s rich history.
The historical building recently underwent an extensive renovation. Bayley Ward Architects worked closely with Revival Project, a Collingwood-based organisation that helps developers repurpose materials removed from construction sites. Here they turned wood and other materials from the building into dining tables, servingware and embellishments – such as the wrought-iron fences that appear throughout.
There’s also accommodation, with “micro hotel rooms” on the first floor.
Central Club Hotel
240–248 Victoria Street, North Melbourne
(03) 7068 1670
Tues to Sat 12pm–11pm