There’s a first for everything, and that’s the attitude of first-time publican David King. He’s resurrected Balmain’s Exchange Hotel a year after it shut.
The historic pub originally opened in 1885. It closed when investors headed by Sydney businessman Jon Adgemis bought it. Since then the three-level venue served as office space, a design studio and a cheese and wine bar.
But in July, King – who owns Ideal Spaces, a company that specialises in converting properties into co-working spaces – took over the lease for the entire venue and saw there was opportunity for more than just shared offices. “When I got there the ground floor, where the original bar is, was still in really good condition, so I started thinking about how I could do something with it,” he says.
King may be a rookie when it comes to opening pubs, but he’s no fool. “[I consulted locals] to gauge what they liked and didn’t like about the old space, instead of making a snap decision and just opening,” he says.
“They said they just want the basics: decent pub food, nothing extravagant, a good range of beers on tap, a good Australian wine list, classic cocktails made well, friendly service and somewhere that is pet-friendly,” he says.
And that is exactly what King has delivered. Aside from a new lick of paint, the pub's interior remains in its original form – from the timber bar and floors, to the fireplace. Original black and white photos and a leather chesterfield lounge, which were found in storage, are also now part of the furniture.
To match the classic pub decor, on tap is Tooheys New, Hahn Super Dry and Heineken, as well as Melbourne’s Doss Blockos, Stone & Wood from Byron Bay and from Hawaii, Kona. There’s also an all-Australian wine list and classic cocktails.
The no-fuss food menu, created by head chef Natalia De Francisco (who previously worked at a cafe in another Ideal Space location), includes a schnitty served with slaw and aioli, and fried chicken wings with a choice of sauce – buffalo, smoky barbeque or garlic parmesan. There’s also a decent range of basic oven-baked pizzas, or cheese and charcuterie boards.
Now with his first pub up and running, King is already considering converting other similar spaces. “Pubs these days are so big. Unless you’re an established hospitality business, a three-storey venue doesn’t make much money anymore; that’s why we see so many pubs closing down, so it’s not a bad idea to go into pubs and covert the unused space.”
The Exchange Hotel
94 Beattie Street, Balmain
Mon & Tue 4pm–late
Wed to Sun 12pm–late
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on August 14, 2018. Menu items may have changed since publication.