It’s been four years since the Ryan family bought St Kilda’s iconic Prince of Wales Hotel complex, which includes the Prince Hotel, the Prince Dining Room (formerly Circa), the Prince Deck and the Prince Bandroom. Now the final piece of the puzzle is about to be put into place, when the iconic art deco Prince Public Bar reopens in December.
“When I was 18 and 19 [years old] I’d go have a hit of pool. It was all walks of life there,” says Prince Hotel managing director Andrew Ryan. “It’s such an iconic venue and it means so much to so many people. There are a lot of emotions at play because of what it means to people. We need to respect that.”
The Prince Public Bar – which first opened in 1936 – closed its doors in April for a refit led by IF Architecture’s Iva Foschia, who worked at the pub in her university days.
“It’s about respecting the existing envelope … reinstating the beauty in the building and making sure it works in the current dining environment,” says Ryan.
Chief among the changes is the repositioning of the bar to the centre of the room in its traditional island bar orientation. Acoustic panelling on the roof has also been removed to reveal the original plaster ceilings. The ceiling was in need of repair so some new panels have been added, but the art deco detailing and motifs around its edges have been restored.
Other historical elements have been retained too, such as pillars covered with original gig posters from diverse music acts, including treasured pub-rockers Cosmic Psychos and soul singer Renée Geyer.
There’s an art deco-inspired palette, new tiles, exposed brickwork and a new dining room where the storeroom and old bathrooms once sat.
“We’re opening it up more, but it’ll still feel inviting. There’s nothing worse than when pubs open up and become more like a dining hall and lose their character,” says Ryan.
Brass tables in the new dining room have been finished with a rainbow patina as a subtle nod to the bar’s history as a queer-friendly venue. (Notably, it was home to lesbian disco Pennie’s in the ’70s and the iconic Pokey’s Drag Show from 1977 to 1992.)
“We still want to work on that aspect of inclusivity where everyone’s welcome,” says Ryan. “It’s really about opening the doors and embracing everyone … it’s about that true hospitality sense of how you make people feel welcome when they come in.”
Executive chef Dan Hawkins and head chef Dan Cooper have created an approachable menu, with counter meals – such as a classic pub steak with chips and peppercorn sauce – available at the bar. There’s also a 700-gram grass-fed Cape Grim T-bone with a choice of two sides; raw tuna served green olive, pepper mayo, cucumber and sourdough toast; and a summer-cherry rocky road with dark chocolate and marshmallow to finish. Breakfast will also be served.
There’s one final addition to open in February: Little Prince Wine will be a 60-person-capacity wine bar and bottle shop adjacent to the pub. You’ll be able to stop in for a bite or pick up a take-home meal and bottle of wine, or head down into the cellar for special tastings and private dinners.
The Prince Public Bar is scheduled to open on December 4 at 29 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda.