In The Hub by Clyde Mooney

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The famous and too-long dormant Esplanade Hotel reopened last weekend for the first time in over two years, in homage to St Kilda Art Crawl and the pub’s indelible link to live music.

One of Melbourne’s cultural institutions, the Esplanade Hotel – The Espy – has proudly stood facing west over Port Philip Bay since 1878. The iconic building boasts three stage areas, and has seen hundreds of acts and celebrities tread the boards over decades of dedication to the arts. It was listed with the National Trust in 1990.

The Espy, circa 1950

In 2000 is was bought by Vince Sofo and Paul Adamo. They closed it in 2015, with a permit to undertake extensive renovations. Complications, including some arising from the Hotel’s deep-rooted significance in the hearts of generations of Melbournians, meant the renovation never began.

Enjoying well-earned success in the Victorian pub scene, most notably their all-new large-format inner city offering Garden State Hotel, Sand Hill Rd decided to take on the challenge of restoring the St Kilda icon, and secured title to the legend in May this year.

In conjunction with St Kilda Art Crawl (SKAC), last Saturday (23 September) at The Espy saw an exhibition of posters, photos, and some of Fred Negro’s iconic art. In the evening, X – The Heartache State, with Nick Barker & DJ Whitt, were “going off” in The Espy’s legendary Gershwin Room, the long-time home of the ABC’s RockWiz.

On Sunday afternoon came The Espy Comedy Gala Pop-up, presented by St Kilda Comedy Club and SKAC.

“It was a cracking weekend,” reports Sand Hill Rd director, Matt Mullins.

“The St Kilda Arts Crawl is designed to bring artists and venues together, to engage in the community. That’s a cool initiative that we wanted to support. One of the ways we thought to do that was open the room and let them put on events.”

Mullins says there may be more pop-up gigs, before the big five-level pub goes into the hands of builders, to begin the carefully planned upgrades to the run-down structure.

“We’ll continue as long as we can to use the room and find ways to keep it active before the builders are in, and get the loyal music-lovers part of it,” offers Mullins. “This is what The Espy is all about, and this is what it should always be about. Forever.”

Bringing only minor changes into the approved DA secured by the previous owners, Sand Hill Rd will begin the painstaking restoration before the end of the year – on track to open in Q4 of 2018.