It’s hidden in the back streets of Woolloomooloo and is the sort of place where the locals seem stuck to the carpet. The Old Fitz opened its doors in 1860 and has attracted a fiercely devoted clientele – folks who aren’t much for upheaval. Now, the winds of change are blowing – but thankfully for the regulars, it’s more of a breeze than a gale.
Business partners James Wirth and Joel Amos, who recently bought and renovated Enmore’s The Duke, along with Michael Delany and Mark Murphy have taken over this grand old pub and are well aware of how protective people are of it.
“Everyone’s like, ‘Don’t fuck it up, don’t ruin it’. We’ve got to take everyone’s opinions on board,” Wirth told Broadsheet. “It’s really worn in and we’ve been asking locals what they think – and luckily, so far, they agree with what we think should change: the food could be better, upstairs needs a makeover.”
The pub has been a local bolthole for more than 150 years and was instrumental in boosting the popularity of laksa in the early 2000s from its tiny backroom kitchen. It’s also got Australia’s only pub theatre (which “we won’t touch”, says Wirth) and the outside tables are often filled with Sydney actors having a couple quiet beers.
Wirth and Amos found out they’d been given the go-ahead just five days before they got the keys. They quickly introduced a dinner menu, but Wirth is keen to point out it’s a work-in-progress – they’ll be doing a proper reboot at the end of April.
“The front bar is full of character and will stay pretty much the same,” he says. “It’ll be more tidying and refreshing it, putting in new carpet and new chairs.”
The big works will be reserved for the back of the pub, near the kitchen, and upstairs. Wirth is keen to make the entire hotel somewhere punters are happy to sit and have a meal, while keeping its spirit (and decades of bric-a-brac) intact.
“I just love the place. I went there 20 years ago when it was selling laksa, and loved it. It’s stuck in time, in a good way, and we really like the feel of it.”
Chef Nic Hill will head up the kitchen. He’s worked at fine diners Sepia and London’s The Ledbury, “but I convinced him to do pub food”, says Wirth. The menu will be British-influenced, with pies, bangers and mash, Scotch eggs and a nose-to-tail element.
“We thought that’s what the venue looked like: a poky, old-school English pub,” he says. “The menu will be really short, but we’ll always have specials depending on what we’ve got. Things like sausage rolls by the inch, lamb’s brains and sweetbreads. It’s not the type of pub where you serve tacos and street food.”
Amos – who’s also the founder of wine delivery service DRNKS – will look after the drinks menu. While he’s known for selling minimal intervention wines, the wine list will be getting a refresh, not a complete makeover, Wirth assures us.
“People who have been coming forever will be able to get the semillon sauvignon blanc they got before, and wine nerds will be able to get something funky. There’ll be a bit of natural wine, small-batch production. We’ll have a blackboard; we might buy a case and it’ll be gone in a week, so we’ll move on to the next thing.
“The pub also has 20 beer taps; it was one of the first to have a lot of craft beers on tap. We’re going to bring in new beers. It’s a good time to refocus that list.”
The Old Fitzroy is now running a new dinner menu, but an overhaul will happen at the end of April.