The Waterside Hotel is that big three-storey pub on the corner of King and Flinders streets. There’s been a hotel on that corner since 1853. The current facade dates back to 1926. Back then, the Argus newspaper called it a “fine up-to-date three-storied premises with every modern convenience”. Over the years it’s had a few owners, and at times, you wouldn’t have described it as fine or up-to-date.
So there was work to do when the Sand Hill Road group took over the property this year. But the team, which is responsible for a number of Melbourne’s slickest contemporary pubs – Garden State, Prahan Hotel – says the Waterside, despite some new baubles, is still just a local pub at heart.
“Anyone walking in here will call it only one thing. It’s a pub – that’s an important thing to preserve,” says Sand Hill co-founder Andy Mullins.
His brother and co-founder Matt agrees. He explains that unlike CBD stablemate Garden State, which they designed from the ground up, the Waterside already had a distinctive character, personality and history.
“We would never throw those things out,” Matt says. “The impact has come from the things we’ve put on the walls, around the bars, the tables, the furniture.”
Matt and interior designer Eleisha Grey spent time in the UK and France filling a shipping container with antiques and curios to adorn the interior, which now features an ecletic array of paintings, light shades and tables. A wrought-iron greeting podium at the dining room entrance is one of Matt’s favourite acquisitions. In a former life, it was a museum turnstile in Paris. Longtime collaborator Technē oversaw an interior refurbishment, but the building remains structurally unchanged.
The welcoming dining room now feels part Grand Budapest Hotel, part local pub, and already feels lived in. The menu features hotel classics such as chicken parmigianas and steaks (ranging from a 250 gram Wagyu for $30, up to 1.2 kilogram of Black Angus for $135 to share), alongside more refined plates such as oysters, smoked cobia or grilled calamari.
Walk through the main bar to the so-called “Doghouse” section, and you’ll find hot dogs, tinnies, and bottled cocktails, which are Kevin Peters domain. Formerly of Eau De Vie, he looks after cocktails for Sand Hill Road. Try his Waterside Spritz, with elderflower, lemon, mint, berries and sparkling wine, on the summer-ready rooftop terrace. Chef Stuart Munroe, who previously led the kitchen at Merricote, spent one month perfecting the hot dogs, which includes a version topped with bleu d'Auvergne cheese from France. Equally decadent is the dessert menu’s marmalade and Jim Beam rye doughnut.
Beer from USA brewery Lagunitas is on tap for only the second time in Australia, and wines lean heavily towards Australia with a few internationals. For something fizzy, head to the second level where the Bubblehouse, outfitted with dark furniture and a black marble bar, focuses on champagne and prosecco. You can enjoy a $13 glass of something local, or if you’re feeling like a blowout, there’s also a $495 bottle of 2006 Dom Perignon.
Or just head back to the main bar for a pot of Carlton. It is, after all, still a pub.
For Melbourne’s latest, subscribe to the Broadsheet newsletter.