Warm beds and cold beers

Four of the best pubs in The Rocks precinct on Sydney’s his­toric fringe

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - LEE MYLNE SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

The Aus­tralian Ho­tel: ‘‘Like stay­ing at my granny’s house,’’ a vis­i­tor has writ­ten in the guest­book at the Aus­tralian Ho­tel. Well it is, if that means slightly dated but com­fort­able rooms, with some chintz and flo­ral dec­o­ra­tion, sash win­dows and a few things a bit frayed around the edges — plus a de­canter of port on a sil­ver tray in the cor­ner of the lounge.

The Aus­tralian is in the heart of The Rocks, at the cor­ner of Cum­ber­land and Glouces­ter streets. It is the area where Aus­tralia’s first Euro­pean set­tlers — Bri­tish con­victs and their over­seers — claimed the land and built their camp on the sand­stone cliffs in 1788.

The orig­i­nal Aus­tralian Ho­tel was lo­cated on Ge­orge Street, next to where the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art now stands. The Sydney Gazette an­nounced its opening on Au­gust 12, 1824, and it is claimed to be the old­est con­tin­u­ously li­censed ho­tel in Sydney. In 1913 the ex­ist­ing ho­tel opened and is now a well-pre­served ex­am­ple of Ed­war­dian-style ar­chi­tec­ture, re­tain­ing many pe­riod fea­tures, in­clud­ing metal awnings, etched sig­nage, split- level bars and sa­loon-style doors.

On Fri­day nights, the pub is crowded with tourists, lo­cals and cor­po­rate types, down­ing cold beers and the Aus­tralian’s fa­mous gourmet piz­zas (top­pings in­clude kan­ga­roo, crocodile and emu). As its name im­plies, the pub is proudly na­tion­al­is­tic and only sells Aus­tralian beer — about 130 bou­tique brands are stocked. Craft brews are the spe­cialty, and a ‘‘beer of the month’’ gives ex­po­sure to 12 dif­fer­ent beers each year. A hugely pop­u­lar annual Aus­tralian Beer Festival is held over two days in Oc­to­ber, at­tract­ing more than 12,000 peo­ple.

Apart from the main bar, you can tuck your­self away in the Al­cove, part of the Bot­tom Bar on the Glouces­ter Street side of the ho­tel, where there are long ta­bles and old wooden church pews. For a qui­eter spot, try the cosy Ladies Par­lour — the first place in Sydney where women were al­lowed to drink in a ho­tel — with its Fed­er­a­tion-style high ceil­ings and warm at­mos­phere. More: 100 Cum­ber­land St, The Rocks; aus­tralian­her­itage­ho­tel.com. For­tune of War: Sol­diers, sport­ing he­roes and stars of the stage and screen have all sunk beers at For­tune of War; it has had a long his­tory as one of Sydney’s most pop­u­lar wa­ter­ing holes.

For­tune of War has al­ways been a ‘‘first and last stop ashore’’ for Aus­tralian troops as they set out to ex­pe­ri­ence their own ‘‘for­tunes of war’’. Dur­ing World War II, it was a favourite haunt of sailors from the RAN, the Royal Navy and the mer­chant navy when their ships were berthed at nearby Cir­cu­lar Quay.

Th­ese days, AN­ZAC Day still sees veter­ans from World War II and Viet­nam mak­ing their way to For­tune of War, to re­unite and rem­i­nisce, the walls of the old bar ring­ing with their war sto­ries. But if you head up­stairs to the qui­eter First Fleet Bar you’ll find a trib­ute to Sydney’s con­vict roots; the walls are hung with colour­ful sketches of the 12 First Fleet ships that sailed into Sydney Cove in 1788, and their pas­sen­ger lists.

For­tune of War’s li­cence was first granted in 1828, and all the pubs from that era have been deli­censed or de­mol­ished, so it is the old­est pub in today’s bustling tourist hub of The Rocks. It has sur­vived changes in own­er­ship, the bubonic plague of 1900, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and wars, and has had a cast of colour­ful char­ac­ters lean up against the bar.

The li­censee since 1987 has been well-known Sydney sports­man Bob Keyes.

The bar-fight scene in the 1981 tele­vi­sion minis­eries A Town Like Alice, star­ring Bryan Brown, was filmed in the Ge­orge Street Bar, and there’s a framed news­pa­per clip­ping record­ing the ac­tion. More: 137 Ge­orge St; for­tu­ne­ofwar.com.au. The Hero of Water­loo: Tall tales of Sydney’s rough-and-ready early days abound, and none is more vivid than what you may hear across the bar at one of the city’s old­est pubs, the Hero of Water­loo (known lo­cally just as the Hero). Perched on a cor­ner block at Millers Point, ad­ja­cent to The Rocks, the sand­stone walls of this pub have many a story to tell. In 1844 the Hero be­came a favoured drink­ing spot for the gar- ri­son troops of the colo­nial days, who manned the forts at each end of the street (the up­per and lower forts gave the streets their names).

Many sto­ries and ru­mours swirl through the his­tory of the Hero of Water­loo, now clas­si­fied as a his­toric land­mark by the Her­itage Coun­cil of NSW and the Na­tional Trust. Un­der the floor of the bar is a maze of stone-walled cel­lars and a se­cret tun­nel that runs from the cel­lars to the former Ship­wright Arms and the har­bour.

What was it for? The best guesses are rum smug­gling and press­gang­ing — where a young man might find him­self at one mo­ment drunk at the bar, the next dropped through a trap­door into the cel­lar, THE Rocks is re-emerg­ing as a chic patch for some of the city’s most stylish ac­com­mo­da­tion. The har­bour­side Park Hy­att Sydney has re­opened af­ter a year-long ren­o­va­tion and has an airy new in­door-out­door feel, with acres of glass and loungey in­te­ri­ors.

The 59-room Har­bour Rocks Ho­tel, at 34 Har­ring­ton St, is set in a se­ries of 1887-built her­itage ter­races and has just had a full makeover. This tucked-away prop­erty is a her­itage gem, with orig­i­nal con­vict-laid sand­stone, ex­posed tim­bers, a lovely oa­sis­like court­yard and a groovy lit­tle restau­rant, Scar­lett.

Mean­while, James and Hay­ley Bail­lie of Bail­lie Lodges — with prop­er­ties on NSW’s Lord Howe Is­land and South Aus­tralia’s Kan­ga­roo Is­land — have an­nounced Bail­lies Sydney, due to open in late 2013.

The high-end be­spoke bun­dled through the tun­nel and wak­ing the next day at sea, shang­haied and aboard a ship bound for strange, far­away shores.

In th­ese sub­ter­ranean cor­ri­dors, be­neath ceil­ings of wat­tle and daub, there are also cells, still hung with chains. ‘‘We think it’s a place where — like in the old days in Eng­land—the local police might have asked the pub­li­can to keep trou­ble­mak­ers overnight,’’ says the owner of the Hero, Ivan Nel­son, as he points out the var­i­ous no­table fea­tures of this ex­tra­or­di­nary place.

The Hero is known for its live mu­sic and has reg­u­lar per­form­ers in­clud­ing Ir­ish band Green Jam, which has been playing here ev­ery Sun­day for more than a decade. More: 81 Lower Fort St, Millers Point; heroofwa­ter­loo.com.au. The Lord Nel­son Brew­ery Ho­tel: When Blair Hayden and his part­ners bought what was then just the Lord Nel­son in 1985 and turned it into a brew­ery ho­tel, they be­came the lat­est in a long line of own­ers to cre­ate their own piece of his­tory in The Rocks. ‘‘It was,’’ says Hayden, ‘‘a run-down, dirty hole with very few pa­trons.’’ But he had a vi­sion to cre­ate Aus­tralia’s first brew­ery in a pub and to em­u­late the tra­di­tional English pubs he ad­mired.

Today, the old stone walls and wooden floors wel­come peo­ple prop­erty, across four his­toric build­ings at 43-47 Ge­orge St on lease from the Sydney Har­bour Fore­shore Au­thor­ity, will have 10 suites, ul­tra-lux­ury ex­tras, well­ness spa, rooftop pool and ter­race, chauf­feured cars for guests’ use and a ‘‘stay in’’ din­ner con­cept in tune with its res­i­den­tial flavour. sydney.park.hy­att.com har­bour­rocks.com.au bail­lielodges.com.au from all walks of life, and it’s a far cry from the es­tab­lish­ment on the north­east cor­ner of Kent and Ar­gyle streets that, known then as the Ship­wright Arms, was first granted a liquor li­cence on June 29, 1831.

In 1840, Wil­liam Wells sold the Ship­wright Arms and trans­ferred the liquor li­cence to his home, which he ex­tended along Kent Street, adding the sec­ond and top floors to cre­ate the Lord Nel­son.

Today, the pub at­tracts an eclec­tic group.

Part of the ap­peal is the beer. In 1985, the Lord Nel­son be­came the first pub in Aus­tralia to have its own mi­cro-brew­ery on the premises. Pa­trons can watch part of the brew­ing process through large win­dows that sep­a­rate the brew­ery from the main bar.

If you are hun­gry, have a typ­i­cal pub meal in the bar, snack on a pork pie or plough­man’s lunch, or head up­stairs to the el­e­gant Nel­son’s Brasserie.

The nine gue­strooms up­stairs at the Lord are on two lev­els above the bar area. More: 19 Kent St, The lord­nel­son­brew­ery.com.

Rocks; This is an edited ex­tract from Great Aus­tralian Pubs by Lee Mylne (Ex­plore Aus­tralia Pub­lish­ing, $34.95; ex­plore­aus­tralia.net.au).

The Aus­tralian Ho­tel is housed in a build­ing that dates back nearly a cen­tury

LEE MYLNE

The Lord Nel­son has a mi­cro-brew­ery on its premises

LEE MYLNE

The Hero of Water­loo

The Bail­lies Sydney site

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