The white art deco building that is the Prince of Wales has proudly stood on Fitzroy Street for as long as many can remember. Housing the Public Bar, one of St Kilda’s true local watering holes, The Bandroom, one of Melbourne’s favourite live music venues, and two-hat restaurant Circa, the Prince is a firmly established St Kilda institution.
So the news that last week that the Melbourne Pub Group bought the icon from John and Lisa Van Haandel is a pretty big deal. The Melbourne Pub Group is the company behind the onslaught of up-market pubs in the bayside area – Albert Park Hotel, Middle Park Hotel and most recently Newmarket in St Kilda. Their venues all follow a seemingly fail proof mould: sleek fit out by Six Degrees and a gastro-pub menu developed by Paul Wilson, who has also come onboard as a director.
Rumours the group will attempt a similar model with the Prince complex are yet to be confirmed. Julian Gerner, one third of the Melbourne Pub Group, has said that the group’s focus will be on what they know, which is food and they are very proud to add all of the Prince businesses to their mix.
As such, the Public Bar’s menu looks set for a revamp, in line with group’s gastro-pub style menu. Chances the locals and regulars will appreciate the plans to ‘foodify’ the local watering hole seem slim to none. But Circa fans may appreciate a Wilson update. Mink Bar will also undergo a transformation, becoming a late night eatery/bar targeting a younger crowd.
For the time being the Bandroom will operate as it is. Due to a considerable amount of concern from the public, the Prince Bandroom has released a statement assuring the public that there are no plans to cease live music.
The Van Haandels took possession of the Prince complex in 1995, but after a bitter falling out between John and his brother Frank years later, the duo split their horde of businesses. John remained in possession of Carousel, Longrain and the Prince of Wales complex, while Frank took Stokehouse and Mr Tulk.
The Van Haandels will retain the freehold for the Prince of Wales property and plan to start developing residential apartments on top of the five-storey car park next year. The Melbourne Pub Group will take ownership of the Prince businesses including the Public bar, the Bandroom, Circa restaurant, Mink bar, event space The Deck and The Prince boutique 40-room hotel.
Things don’t seem to be slowing down for The Melbourne Pub Group, which is quickly forging a significant presence in the Melbourne restaurant scene, growing from a fledgling business with one property to a big business with four properties in two years.
While they seem to have a formula that works, whether or not the Prince of Wales is the place for it is yet to be seen.