Art deco hotels, or pubs, are a uniquely Australian interpretation and contribution to the art deco era. Between the mid-1930s to the early 1940s, hundreds of these streamlined hotels were built across Australia, in the big cities and outback towns, with Sydney at the epicentre of the trend. Sure, Melbourne has its share, as do other Australian cities, but nowhere else were there as many built as in the harbour city.
In a new book, Australian Art Deco Hotels, photographer Geoffrey Goddard documents the very best of these treasures, and every curve and colourful detail. It took him 10 years and more than 35,000 road-trip kilometres to complete and it’s filled with more than 300 contemporary photographs, complemented by archival images.
When asked why he thinks this architectural style was so dominant in Sydney Goddard says, “Between the 1930s and ’40s, the two main breweries were Tooth and Co and Tooheys, which were in a very competitive drive to woo customers, so they wanted their pubs to be designed in the latest and greatest style that would appeal and create a sense that the breweries were forward-thinking. These art deco functionalist buildings helped to convey a sense of optimism as Australia was coming out of the depression.
“Also, Sydney's population and suburbs were growing, which is why many new pubs were built in the style close to railway stations and along high streets,” he says.
The book includes several self-guided tours of Sydney art-deco pubs, each with a reasonably easy route that’s achievable on foot or by bike. The three walks cover some of Sydney’s most loved deco pubs.
Below is a selection of some of the best hotels from each of the art deco pub walks mapped out in the book.
The city and city fringes
This walk begins at the Criterion, on the corner of Pitt and Park streets, and winds its way through the city before heading down Broadway to the Hotel Broadway (170 Broadway), taking in highlights such as the Civic, the Hollywood and Clare hotels. It includes nine hotels in total.
The Civic has a classic inter-war functionalist design from 1940 and was the last purpose-built hotel in the CBD. It was sympathetically restored in the mid-2000s and retains many of its original features. It’s a popular haunt for after-work drinks and its downstairs club has one of the best sound systems in Sydney and was a famous pub-rock venue in the ’70s and ’80s.
Corner Goulburn and Pitt streets, CBD
The Hollywood has survived with much of its original charm intact and is considered a quintessential Sydney inner-city art deco pub. It was originally going to be called the Nevada Hotel when it was built in 1940, but was renamed the Hollywood because of its proximity to the offices of 20th Century Fox and Paramount across the road, which has been reimaged as a cafe, hotel and cinema. Inside there are mementos of the owner’s Hollywood history, too. Doris Goddard was an actress and vaudeville star, appearing in movies with the likes of Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn.
Corner Foster and Hunt streets, Surry Hills
Refurbished a number of years ago as part of the Carlton United Brewery redevelopment, the 1941-built Clare Hotel, now The Clare bar and hotel, is known for its striking green terracotta fin with a repeating geometric pattern, which sweeps up and curves over the hotel’s roof line. Its interior deco details are still intact and it has a warm and welcoming front-bar atmosphere.
20 Broadway, Chippendale
Oxford Street and the eastern suburbs
Oxford Street has a number of art deco pubs, all the way to Bondi Junction and beyond to Waverley. This walk is by far the longest and includes nine hotels, starting at a former pub-turned-gay venue, The Albury (2a Oxford Street, Paddington). It’s sadly no longer a drinking establishment. Look out for:
Light Brigade Hotel
Built in 1939, this busy Woollahra hotel is another inter-war functionalist pub. The former accommodation on the upper levels is now dedicated to a restaurant, lounge and rooftop bar, as well as one of this city’s prettiest bathrooms. Its proximity to Moore Park means it’s a popular place to meet before the footy.
Corner Oxford Street and Jersey Road, Woollahra
Tea Gardens Hotel
This 1940 rebuild of an existing pub is decorated with stunning geometric floral friezes on the facade that also includes a large clock, a throwback to the days when the six o’clock swill was a thing. It’s now a haunt for British and Irish backpackers.
2–4 Bronte Road, Bondi Junction
Robin Hood and Charing Cross Hotel
These hotels are opposite each other and demonstrate the different stylistic approaches to deco hotel design. The earlier Charing Cross, from 1935, by prolific hotel architect Sidney Warden, contrasts with the sleek streamline shape of the Robin Hood Hotel, which was built in 1938.
Intersection of Carrington and Bronte roads, Waverley
The inner west
This walk focuses on the many venues along King Street, with a couple detours. It includes 12 hotels across the suburbs of Newtown, Camperdown, Erskineville and Enmore.
This 1940-built pub is a Newtown landmark. Its large blue neon sign is hard to miss, and its long balconies are good for sipping cocktails.
145 King Street, Newtown
Another pub built in 1940. It’s got a long association with the LGBTQIA+ community and is famous for its drag shows and featuring in the movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
35 Erskineville Road, Erskineville
The Union has been pouring beers since 1939 and is a fine example of compact deco design. It’s no got more than 20 craft beers on tap.
576 King Street, Newtown
The Golden Barley
A striking ship-like design complete with flagpole, The Golden Barley was built in 1939 and was known for having one of the longest bars in NSW. Its family-friendly beer garden and bistro is a local favourite.
167 Edgware Road, Enmore
Other notable pubs
Marrickville’s The Henson, Double Bay’s Golden Sheaf, Manly’s Hotel Steyne, the Kirribilli, the Pymble Hotel, Hotel Hunters Hill and the North Annandale.
Australian Art Deco Hotels by Geoffrey Goddard is available at Kinokuniya Books, the State Library bookshop, Better Read Than Dead, Bookoccino and online here for $75.