There are nods to years gone by, but make no mistake – the multimillion-dollar refurb of the 1888-built Portarlington Grand Hotel marks a new era for the coastal township.
The traditionally slow-paced spot on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula is now making waves that can be felt across the bay in Melbourne, just over an hour away by ferry.
Behind the historical hotel’s restoration is the Little Group, which also runs Port Phillip Ferries and developed Melbourne’s new Hyatt Centric hotel. Local architecture and interior-design firm Techne was charged with the redesign.
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Elements of the original pub – overlooking the water on Newcombe Street – have been painstakingly preserved, including the balustrading, which was sent to Castlemaine and recast to look exactly as it did in 1888. It features on a spectacular balcony that gives an early 20th-century-Australiana grandeur to six of the accommodation’s 18 boutique rooms. Textural feature walls, handpainted by local outfit Scanlan & Makers, are a beautiful backdrop for the elegant Zuster furniture dotted throughout, as well as the ornamental fireplaces, dramatic archways and blue-green colour palette.
It isn’t all brand new, though. Two wood fireplaces that warmed the hotel in the good old days have been retained, and photographs documenting the town’s history are found all through the bistro – the beating heart of the place. Locals (poached from the post office and supermarket) work at reception and pour beers in the new front bar, which has forest-green accents and a charming two-tone timber-clad bar. There are also upscale brown-leather booths, and the drab TAB is gone.
A raft of local Bellarine Peninsula booze-makers star on the drinks menu (think Jack Rabbit, Terindah Estate, Flying Brick Cider Co and The Whiskery) while the pub’s food offering makes heavy use of the area’s excellent seafood. Portarlington mussels – the subject of the riotous mussel festival every January – are especially delicious here in the seafood-and-chorizo risotto, or by themselves in a creamy, cider-y sauce. You’ll also find classics such as panko-crumbed schnitties and parmas, and whiting with chips.
Next door, a previously concreted beer garden has made way for the Atrium, a light-filled, open-air space with contemporary nautical vibes that don’t overdo it. And there’s also the Lawn, a breezy area with picnic tables.
Daytripping from Melbourne? For an old-school touch, a warning bell is rung 30 minutes before each ferry’s departure, so you know you have time for one more pint.