One of Queanbeyan’s biggest and oldest pubs is being treated to a raft of upgrades to ensure the town’s pub culture stays alive and well.
Over the years, locals have had five pubs to choose from, not least of all Hotel Queanbeyan, or – as it came to be known – ‘The Top Pub’, on account of its lofty position overlooking Crawford Street.
Established in 1926, the pub was well and truly getting to the point where some serious TLC was in order. Not only that, but country towns are also vastly different places today and retro is definitely in when it comes to foodie places.
Accommodation manager Samantha Clarke began working there 14 years ago as a barmaid.
“It was exactly what you’d expect … a country pub,” she says. A country pub in desperate need of a makeover.
But before they rushed in with the sledgehammer, there were a few things to keep in mind.
“Most of the pubs have one audience, but we try to cater to everyone,” Samantha says.
“We have regulars who have been drinking here for decades and we want to keep them happy, while also targeting families and the younger generation.”
There was also the history, and associated heritage listing, to contend with.
In many cases, pubs were the first structures built in newly colonised areas. In Canberra, it’s The Old Canberra Inn in Lyneham, which opened in 1876 as a coach stop and licenced inn between Yass and Queanbeyan.
But because the sale of alcohol was prohibited in the ‘Federal Capital Territory’ from its creation in 1911 through to 1928, locals had to cross the border to get their fix.
As one 1927 pamphlet put it: “Bootlegging is not necessary in Canberra, when you only have to drive across to Queanbeyan and carry back all you want … That is why, for the present, Canberra’s main export is gold and silver to Queanbeyan.”
Pubs served multiple functions, from post office to general store, and certainly when Hotel Queanbeyan was established in 1926, it wasn’t just about the drinks.
“This place was originally built to house the workers who had moved to the area to build Canberra,” Samantha says.
“It was sited near the railway, so they could get to and from work easily.”
All up, Hotel Queanbeyan is equipped with 67 rooms. Today, most of them are occupied by permanent tenants, paying from $50 per night.
In the end, Samantha says they hired a local interior designer to help capture the vision.
“We went to them with the things we felt we absolutely had to keep to ensure we maintained the original pub feel,” she says.
The original gold-leaf signage, timberwork, light fittings, fireplaces and window frames remain, but all restored to former glory. In the 20 renovated bedrooms, there’s a fresh coat of paint and wallpaper. Although there is some new furniture, many of the original pieces have simply been touched up. All the shared bathrooms have also been renovated with a “heritage feel”.
Downstairs, several walls were ripped out to make way for two new bars, an alfresco drinks area, and an expanded function room capable of holding 200 to 250 people. This can also be hired out, together with a cocktail bar, free of charge.
Because the renovations are being done in bits and pieces, business at the hotel is largely unaffected. And according to Samantha, it’s been well worth the effort.
“The customers have become more family-oriented. We sponsor heaps of sports teams, and in turn, those teams have been bringing in their families for functions, weddings, birthday parties.”
She says everyone is pleasantly surprised by just how well a local town pub can scrub up. And it isn’t finished yet. There’ll be rolling renovations for some time yet.
And if you happen to be on the lookout for a room down the track, Samantha has more good news: they’re planning to add ensuites to several of the bigger rooms.