As a part-time Sorrento local, publican Craig Shearer (Fitzroy North’s Terminus Hotel, Brisbane’s Plough Inn) spent years driving past the Continental Hotel – or the Conti, as it’s known – while it lay dormant, wondering what would become of the limestone icon. The old dame is one of the first things you see while walking up the main street from the beach.

“Like so many others, I’ve got stories from the grand old days of the Conti,” he tells Broadsheet, “visiting as a younger person and spending many a late night there.”

Little did he know at the time that he and acclaimed Melbourne chef-restaurateur Scott Pickett (Chancery Lane, Le Shoppe, Matilda, Estelle, Longrain, Smith St Bistrot) would be key players in the rebirth of the Mornington Peninsula destination.

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Brought on board alongside Melbourne-based architecture studio Woods Bagot, Shearer and Pickett have spent the past few years helping revive the nearly 150-year-old mega-venue, reportedly one of the largest limestone structures in the Southern Hemisphere.

Now, after more than $100 million in renovations and a series of delays, what’s now called The Continental Sorrento – one of the state’s most anticipated venues of the year – will finally open its French patio doors to the public on Tuesday March 29.

“The design and the build have done complete justice to one of my favourite buildings on the Peninsula,” says Pickett. “It’s been rebuilt back to its former glory.”

The sprawling, commanding property is made up of six levels, five buildings and three parts, with a range of purpose-built areas: an InterContinental hotel with 108 luxury rooms, a Mediterranean-inspired pool deck, and a spa and bathhouse – the opening date of which is still to be announced. But there’s also a raft of food and drinks venues opening from next week, including a brand-new public bar where the original Conti was.

Also called the Conti, it’s keeping the affectionate nickname alive. It dominates the property’s ground floor, with an inviting, old-world feel, as well as original, restored limestone and timber. “It was a painstaking task,” says Pickett. “They had to rebuild them with certain stones from certain areas in accordance with Heritage Victoria.”

But the effort paid off. It’s glam but timeless, featuring heritage walls, a terrazzo floor, copper accents and a big burgundy marble bar. Framed mirrors and photos from bygone Sorrento days line the walls, and window bench seats look out over the glistening beach town’s main strip. There’s also a lush open-air promenade running along Ocean Beach Road.

The menu represents much of Pickett’s repertoire. Find pub classics (parmas, burgers, pastas), Josper-grilled meats, woodfired pizzas and a few dishes carried over from Longrain, most notable of which is the betel leaf topped with smoked trout, galangal and a pop of finger lime. On the more extravagant side, there are seafood platters for two, crayfish with all the trimmings, and caviar with blinis and traditional garnishes for $250.

Meanwhile, cocktails, wine and predominantly local beers will be curated by the Speakeasy Group, which is behind Eau de Vie, Mjolner, Boilermaker House, Nick & Nora’s and Pearl Diver.

When the bar fills up, you can spill out into the adjoining beer garden, a striking, light-flooded space made for enjoyment in all seasons; there’s a stunning vaulted glass ceiling and a beautiful fireplace. Far beachier than the Conti bar – with wicker seating, picnic tables and greenery hanging all over the place – it’s perfect for settling in with a spritz.

Rounding out the ground floor is Barlow, a lavish late-night speakeasy with all manner of live entertainment. It was inspired by the hotel’s founder, George Coppin. “George was quite a theatrical guy that had also started a theatre down here,” says Shearer. “He acted in many performances and his stage name was Billy Barlow.” Launching in the coming weeks, it’ll host a varied range of entertainers, from comedians to bands and DJs.

Opening on Friday April 1 is Audrey’s, Pickett’s first regional restaurant, named after his grandma, who he says inspired him to cook. With striking views of Port Phillip Bay, it’ll be all about old-timey opulence and seafood, including a marble raw bar.

The Conti bar and beer garden open on Tuesday March 29. The other food and drinks venues will open in stages throughout the week.

The Continental Sorrento
1-24 Ocean Beach Road, Sorrento

Hours:
Daily 11am–late

thecontinentalsorrento.com.au

This article was updated at 12.35pm on March 25 to reflect a change in opening date for the Conti bar and beer garden.