After four years in the wilderness and failing foundations, the National Hotel has this week made a quiet triumphant return to Geelong’s dynamic pub scene.
The Ramia family have owned the corner site known as The Nash for the past thirty years. In late 2012 it closed unexpectedly, with management citing a council order to investigate and rectify “the structural integrity of the foundations”.
James Ramia was born at the historic pub and lived a number of his childhood years in one of the upstairs apartments. A few decades later, James has returned, and taken up the challenge to restore the 1856 pub to operation.
Now, after fifteen months’ hard work, the National has reopened quietly this week to test the new waters of the virgin fitout.
“I oversaw the construction and design,” Ramia told PubTIC. “We kept running into unforeseen hurdles, so it took a little longer than planned, but we are back open now.”
The 3-storey building was gradually sinking into its own cellar, and Ramia says remedial work required them to effectively pump a new concrete foundation under the building, at the expense of the old cellar. The foundation repair ended up a bigger job than the rest of the renovation.
Typical of old pubs, the building was a maze of small rooms. These have largely been consolidated, for a more modern open-plan layout, and new concepts for the upper floors.
The street level will continue as the obligatory public bar. The upstairs accommodation has been replaced with a 60-pax seated dining area on level one, and rooftop beer garden for 70 people overlooking the city.
Although the old Nash championed a sticky carpet live music scene, Ramia says the new incarnation will be more of a gastro pub.
“We’re doing a big focus on f&b, and feedback so far has been really good.
“Once we’re comfortable about what the market wants – ‘cause you really don’t know – we’ll ease into some sort of live music, likely more acoustic.”
The National is listed with the Heritage Council of Victoria, which observes both its architectural and local historic significance. Many original features have been retained in the renovation, such as old floorboards now prominent in the bar, and exposed brick walls – sans seven layers of wallpaper.
Ramia says they are trying some new initiatives at the new installation, choosing to employ staff brimming with enthusiasm as a priority, even over experience.
He also notes the pub has only one television. “We’re trying to get people to talk to each other again,” he explains.
The new National Hotel is open for lunch and dinner, offering “Boom Shakalaka Boom Boom”.