In On the Market by Clyde Mooney

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One of Australia’s most legendary pubs – a star of Priscilla Queen of the Desert – is set to kick up its heels and head to market.

The Palace Hotel, Broken Hill’s best-known pub, was originally built in 1889 as a coffee house, before getting its licence in 1892. The magnificent three-storey structure was designed by Melbourne architect Alfred Dunn and boasts the longest balcony of its kind in the southern hemisphere.

The partnership that took over ownership and operation of the heritage building and pub business in 2009 includes Esther La Rovere, who also operates the annual Broken Heel Festival (BHF) in the town, celebrating with three days of ‘drag, divas, disco, and dress-ups’ the anniversary of the movie that made The Palace famous to the world.

Speaking to PubTIC, La Rovere says the pub and town’s legend keep growing.

“One of the partners is moving out of town, so the partnership as a whole decided to dissolve,” she explained. “We are planning a private sale campaign, but announced it a bit early as the Sunrise people were here for our St. Patrick’s races on the weekend.

“The Broken Heel Festival keeps going from strength to strength. We now have funding from Destination NSW, and hope this year to have a Countrylink train coming out here. Visitors come from all over Australia and even overseas.”

Borne of reverence for the movie’s spectacular celebration of life and vivid colour, and the bitter-sweet cultural clash of three Sydney drag queens bursting into the Aussie outback, the BHF* draws hundreds of people to a town that was once tipped to be the second capital of NSW.

Over 1,100 kilometres west of Sydney and over 500 kilometres north-east of Adelaide, Broken Hill is birthplace of many a mining fortune, and provided two-thirds of the name of the world’s largest mining company, BHP.

The Palace Hotel has long been the jewel in the mining town’s glittering crown. It famously sports a recreation of Botticelli’s Venus on the ceiling, done by past owner Mario Celletto, who held the pub from the early seventies until La Rovere and partners took over. Celletto, who has since passed away, also commissioned indigenous artist Gordon Waye to paint more than 500m² of original murals.

Toward the end of his tenure Celletto let parts of the Hotel, which includes 48 accommodation rooms, slip into disrepair and discontinued their use.

The Hotel’s current owners, which also includes couples Todd and Kellie Spain, Katie and Dave Shoobridge, and Esther’s sister Selina La Rovere-Nagas and husband Fisk Nagas, have restored most all but the cavernous cellar, replete with its winding timber staircase. There is also an underground tunnel that reportedly used to lead to the mines.

And due to a special grant to the town on the basis of its heritage and culture, The Palace is in fact the only venue in Australia licenced to offer Two-Up all-year-round.

After the better part of a decade in ‘the outback oasis’ La Rovere says she will continue her involvement with the BHF, but is unsure what life after The Palace will be.

“There’s still enormous potential in the building … so many layers of history, intertwined with people’s stories,” she says.

The partnership has price expectations for the freehold going concern of $3-4 million.


*The 2017 Broken Heel Festival will take place 9-11 September.