AUSTRALIA In praise of pubs
Four hotels in Hobart come with rich histories and lively legends
CUSTOMS HOUSE HOTEL IN the early days of the Customs House Hotel it was known as a chop house, which meant a good square meal could be found inside.
Today, owners Paul and Karen Jubb hope the same can be said about their spacious restaurant overlooking the Hobart waterfront. Sailors have always played a part in the history of the hotel, located in the heart of Hobart’s marine precinct, and this tradition continues today, particularly when the Sydney-to-hobart yacht race fleet comes into port in late December.
Built by Charles Gaylor and licensed in 1846, the hotel took its name from its location opposite the then Customs House, now Tasmania’s Parliament House. Gaylor was one of Hobart’s early settlers and his name is cut into the building’s front coping stone.
In more recent years the hotel has expanded into the next-door shop and the former Marine Hotel, and in 2003 it underwent a substantial transformation when it merged with the adjacent ship chandler’s warehouse in Morrison Street. Both buildings are listed on the Tasmanian Heritage Register. The renovation resulted in a main bar, a 100-seat restaurant, a function area called Vue and 12 new guestrooms, taking the total to 23 rooms, six with water views. More: customshousehotel.com. KNOPWOODS RETREAT In colonial days, when Hobart was a wild and bawdy town, there was none who liked a drink and a good time better than the Reverend Bobby Knopwood, the chaplain to the colony and a magistrate for its first two decades.
In 1829, he opened the pub he called the Whalers’ Return and which now bears his name in the sandstone building on Salamanca Place. It’s likely he would approve highly of Knopwoods Retreat, still one of Hobart’s most popular watering holes.
The cosy pub has gone through several incarnations — at one point being the Lord Nelson, at another the Nautilus — and it was not until the 1980s that it took the name of the man who began it all.
Knoppies, as the locals call it, is a welcoming place and it’s easy to see why the small bar is usually crowded ( but don’t be put off). There’s a large open wood fire and some striking works by Tasmanian artists, and the atmosphere is warm and intimate.
‘‘We really try to keep it as traditional as possible, and that is part of its charm when a lot of other pubs have modernised,’’ says licensee Kate Cawthorn. And Knoppies seems to appeal to everyone, from fishermen and politicians (state parliament is just a stone’s throw away) to university types and tourists.
The combination of excellent coffee, food, beer, wine and a cosy atmosphere makes this pub a hot favourite. It can be crowded at lunchtime, but no bookings are taken — so head for the bar and wait for a table to become free. The menu, which changes daily, is written on a blackboard, and nothing costs more than $15. On Friday nights the bar is packed with the after-work crowd, spilling out on to Salamanca Place, where there are more tables and chairs. Beers on tap vary, with darker ales served in winter. You’ll also find Tasmanian whisky from Lark Distillery (just down the road in Davey Street) and Strait vodka from northern Tasmania.
And what became of the Reverend Knopwood, the first official resident of Battery Point ( previously known as Knopwoods Point)? Well, he couldn’t avoid trouble and fell out with governor George Arthur before dying in 1838, aged 75. Check out the brass plaque outside Knopwoods Retreat that relates his version of the feud. More: 39 Salamanca Place, Hobart; (03) 6223 5808. REPUBLIC BAR & CAFE Is it a pub? Is it a gallery? Is it a cafe? The Republic in North Hobart is all three, and the combination works. Supporting the arts is a vital part of what makes the Republic tick: there’s music here every night as well as changing exhibitions on the red wall that gives the gallery its name, all in a cool, casual atmosphere.
Originally the Rose Hotel, the pub opened in 1831 and was later renamed the Rose and Crown. By 1938 it had been substantially rebuilt as an art deco brick building standing on the corner of Elizabeth and Burnett streets and was then called the Empire Hotel.
In 1997 the pub was taken over by Tony Heath and Peter Mcdonald, who decided to put an emphasis on live music and renamed it Republic Bar & Cafe.
Part of the pub is given over to the Red Wall Gallery. ‘‘The Red Wall really came about because we had a bartender called Kim Duggan whose wife was an artist and we arranged to show her work,’’ says manager Jeremy Heath. ‘‘Then we had another artist, and it just started from there, holding regular exhibitions. The exhibitions now change every four or six weeks, showcasing the work of emerging Hobart artists; the organisation of the venue is directed by local artists Nicole O’loughlin and Rory Dick.’’
When it’s an opening night, the crowd is there for the art; at other times, the art is there for the people who visit the bar. And the music can be anything from jazz and blues to acoustic, hip hop or world music. Sessions start at 10pm on Friday and Saturday nights and at 8.30pm or 9pm on other nights. Occasionally there are special events, such as Hot August Jazz, starting at lunchtime.
The commitment to the arts extends to poetry readings on the first Sunday of each month, and in true pub tradition there’s also a quiz night twice a month.
The Republic’s mood is cafestyle, relaxed and modern, with log fires inside and a beer garden with barbecue area out the back. An extensive cafe- type menu caters for all tastes and budgets, and there is also a specials board that changes regularly.
Nearly everything on the menu is sourced locally — no frozen fish here, it is all caught in Australian waters. Beef, lamb and pork come from a Tasmanian butcher, and chicken dishes are prepared free of chemicals or hormones (and the eggs, of course, are freerange). More: republicbar.com. SHIPWRIGHT’S ARMS Shipwright’s Arms Hotel at Battery Point is a traditional old English-style corner pub steeped in history. It’s the sort of pub where a woman might take off her pink high heels after a day at the races and hang them over the beer taps on the bar, and nobody will mind. Or where a bloke might take off his shirt to show someone a particular tattoo and attract a small group of interested observers along the bar.
There’s no pokies, no keno, no live music, no pool table — but there’s plenty happening if you keep your eyes and ears open, and Shippies (as the locals affectionately call it) has probably seen it all. A popular haunt for boaties and yachties and sea-going folk of all kinds, this Hobart institution has been around since 1846 and remains as popular as ever.
It’s a pub that tends to be frequented by regulars rather than tourists, but strangers are always welcome for a beer and a yarn. And if you happen to be a visitor who’s exploring the quaint Georgian village of Battery Point, one of Hobart’s loveliest locales, then it’s a great place to stop for some refreshments.
Shippies is a favourite with crews from the Sydney-to-hobart yacht race and its walls are adorned with numerous photographs of the spectacular boats; a 7m-long photo mural tells the story of the race and a display features every line- honours winner since 1945.
It also has a unique collection of Tasmanian and maritime memorabilia, while the dining rooms display photographs of Old Hobart and Battery Point. The front bar, built by a shipwright, features Tasmanian timbers, and log fires keep it cosy in winter.
Shippies has comfortable guestrooms upstairs, offering budget accommodation. And if you plan to dine in, be sure to make a booking for the bistro, because as one of Hobart’s most famous hotels, with a reputation for good food, it can get busy. More: shipwrightsarms.com.au.
discovertasmania.com This is an edited extract from Great Australian Pubs by Lee Mylne (Explore Australia Publishing, $34.95); exploreaustralia.net.au.
Clockwise from top left, Shipwright’s Arms, Customs House Hotel, Knopwoods Retreat and Republic Bar & Cafe