The faded but not forgotten Railway Hotel in Brunswick is set to return under new owners, shaking off its chequered past to become an expansive community-focused venue.
The multi-storey Railway was built 1889 beside the train line running north-south through the inner Melbourne suburb of Brunswick.
In early 2016 the Hotel was raided by Victoria Police, reportedly finding thousands of pills, other drugs and a quantity of cash on the premises, with the lessee and manager consequently facing extensive charges and jail time. In 2017 it closed, and remained dormant for two years.
Richie Ludbrook – a partner and director in the successful Melbourne-based Riverland Group – was looking for a new project and settled his sites on the Railway.
He formed Brunswick Railway P/L, and purchased the leasehold in February this year.
At the same time, he negotiated with the freehold owner to demolish the run-down house next door, which he also owned, to facilitate an extended new beer garden for the pub, giving it a total footprint of 1,375sqm.
Ludbrook is focusing on a strong community angle for the striking old Victorian landmark, aiming to provide for 645 patrons inside and 320 outside, with an outdoor play area for kids.
The ground floor has been gutted, making way for two indoor bars and a dining area. The menu will reportedly be “generous, quality driven and unpretentious”, featuring a charcoal rotisserie with flavours influenced by the Mediterranean and middle east – reflecting Brunswick’s heritage, a pizza oven, and a strong vegetarian and vegan line-up.
The first floor will soon be converted into function rooms, and down the track it’s hoped levels two and three will become start-up offices or studios and community spaces.
The operation will further embrace sustainability and a “zero waste model” with solar power, using e-water produced onsite instead of cleaning chemicals, and systems to minimise packaging.
Ludbrook brings his Riverland Group experience, boasting venues such as Boatbuilders Yard, Pilgrim Bar and Riverland, for a project he believes will be a welcome return for the precinct.
“We chose this pub because of the vibrant community of Brunswick,” he says. “I wanted to breathe new life into a much-loved community building, which had been let go for many years.”
The revised Railway is scheduled to open in March 2020, and Riverland will be managing operations.
“It has such a rich history and has been a really significant part of the community for 130-odd years,” offers Ludbrook.
“We have our hearts and minds set on returning the building back to its former glory, and at the same time making it an inclusive, casual and fun community hub once again.”