St Kilda was feeling a bit tired. And, according to one of its owners, so was the Saint Hotel. “It had had its heyday,” explains Simon Blacher. “And Fitzroy Street had as well.”
So, to reinvigorate the hotel (and hopefully the strip), the Saint shut shop for a serious makeover. Two-and-a-half years later and it’s now St. Hotel. Southsiders are donning their best boat-shoes (and, for some, spray-on suntans) and hitting the multi-storey pub in droves. Blacher, whose other businesses include the hugely popular Hanoi Hannah and Saigon Sally venues, felt the suburb was ready for somewhere casual but classy. “In St Kilda, the high-end is taken care of really well. Where we’re trying to fit in is that middle-end, done well, in a casual atmosphere,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be backpacker-oriented, and it doesn’t have to be too fancy.”
While retaining the heritage facade, the inside has been stripped to bare brick, glass and moulded concrete, with blonde-wood fittings and giant neon reading “BITE ME” in cursive. The pub is a pub; 18 beers are on tap, with bartenders pouring local favourites Dos Blockos and New South Welsh import, Murray’s Whale Ale. Cocktails have an “Asian inflection”, though the espresso martini is clearly going strong. “We wanted to have your everyday public bar, where you can walk in, watch cricket and have a beer,” he says.
Ex-Chin Chin chef Sean Judd is on the pans, crafting modern-Thai-style dishes such as Chang-Mai sausage with betel and ginger, coconut-braised lamb shoulder with pineapple rind, and, Blacher’s favourite, an heirloom tomato salad served with prawns. “You don’t think it’s going to work that well, but it’s fucking delicious,” he says.
Upstairs there’s a “supper club” with oysters and cured meats, and the 80-person capacity Social Club, which runs as either a nightclub or private venue. “We wanted to capture what the old Saint Hotel used to be: a good party for grown-ups,” says Simon. “You could spend 12 hours all in the one building.”
For his part, Blacher thinks the new St. marks the beginning of a new era for Fitzroy Street. “I’ve been living and working in St. Kilda for 10 to 12 years now,” he says. “I think it’s on the cusp of changing, I really do.”