Every time a beloved neighbourhood pub changes hands, the community draws a sharp breath. It’s a regular occurrence in Brunswick, where watering holes are frequently reincarnated with varying levels of success. At the end of last year, it was longstanding corner pub the Charles Weston’s turn to get a new set of owners with a different vision.
Brunswick can exhale. The Sporting Club Hotel, as it’s now known, is in safe hands. New owners Will Benjamin, Cal Hitchens, Ryan Crick, Ollie Smith and Guy Wells are experienced publicans who last year reimagined Fitzroy North’s Royal Oak Hotel to thunderous applause. Benjamin and Hitchens are also co-owners of Fitzroy’s one-and-only Marquis of Lorne.
At the Sporting Club Hotel, which opened last week, reclaiming the original name embossed in its 1896 facade, the crew has applied a light but distinct touch: many of the cosmetic changes have just involved decluttering, a peel-back of original elements and a few new licks of paint. In many instances, they’re adding by subtracting.
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“The pubs we’ve picked up in the past, they’re usually 19th century, and you’re often working with the confines of the structure of the space,” says Benjamin. “So the layout remains much the same as it was previously, but with a real warm freshen-up.
“We’ve kept the existing elements that have charm and character and history – it’s a reno that’s sympathetic to the building, the area and pub nostalgia.”
Ineke Hutter and her team at Studio Co & Co led the design for the Sporting Club. New elements to the space include new lighting, bespoke wall features and fresh carpeting. Inside, the bar has been swapped out for a classic horseshoe design that opens the entire room up. The sizable outdoor area is much the same, but it’s been bolstered by a dedicated bar and a retractable roof with considerable coverage. Dogs are welcome to come along, too.
The menu, by executive chef Scott Stevenson and head chef Cian Fenaughty, continues the overall theme of acknowledging tradition while still having fun. It feels nostalgic and retro without veering into kitsch. Snacks include baked Pacific oysters, a riff on clams casino; a prawn cocktail-inspired roll; and a hot-smoked-trout hash brown. Marquis of Lorne devotees will be pleased to see that pub’s rockling burger on offer here. Other mains include chicken schnitzel, three kinds of steak on the grill, and a vegan cauliflower Kiev. For lunch on Monday through Friday, it’s hard to imagine anyone ordering anything other than the club sandwich.
“There’s a balance in terms of what we offer – we’re always conscious of what might be called ‘pub DNA’,” says Benjamin. “People that come to a pub have the basic expectation that there’ll be a chicken schnitzel and Carlton Draught on tap, and that’s great – having familiar options is comforting.
“There’s sort of a sweet spot between keeping things interesting, relevant and somewhat contemporary, but also having what’s timeless and traditional to a pub. There’s a bit of a craft to straddling the balance between the two.”
Sporting Club Hotel
27 Weston Street, Brunswick
(03) 9380 877
Mon to Sun 12pm–10pm