In Our Pub by Clyde Mooney

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Anthony Hammond is taking his gastro-pub experience and reinventing Footscray’s tired Hart’s Hotel into an affordable family-focused local boozer.

Hammond is one half of the team that created Fitzroy’s acclaimed Builder’s Arms Hotel, with its culinary masterpieces Moon Under Water and more recently Ricky & Pinky Chinese restaurant.

Hotel Victoria has long been known as Hart’s Victoria Hotel, courtesy of the family that owned and operated it for a couple of decades in the early 20th century. In recent years the pub has lost its way somewhat, falling out of step with the changing demographic of the area.

Footscray is a suburb on the rise, and Hammond says it is this he finds exciting.

“I saw it as a great opportunity to be in a thriving suburb, and one I think is maybe undersupplied – not like Fitzroy.”

The new offering is a project with his wife Jo deFina and business partner Nick Carter. It will not see a lot of physical changes, but an old flat roof will be removed to restore an internal beer garden, and the commanding 10-foot corner doorway bricked up for 20 years will be reinstated.

Original features will be rescued and retained where possible, and in this sense Hammond says they will to an extent be “bringing it back” to what it was. Himself a new father, the new incarnation will feature plenty of attractions for young families, including a children’s changing room.

“What we want to provide is a good local boozer – accessible food, accessible drink with a great built environment. We want people to walk in who didn’t know it before, and wonder what was here before and what wasn’t.

“We want to appeal to women, and provide a safe, clean environment for them; women are a lot more loyal than men. There’s a burgeoning young family environment out in Footscray that we really want to encourage.”

The menu will be the creation of NZ-born James Cornwell, formerly working high-end restaurants in London and Hong Kong. He will be offering pub classics plus specials – evolving over time with the trust of the patronage – to include the likes of fish collar, typically considered an off-cut, but can be amazing when done correctly.

To help keep the meals affordable, Hammond is employing a low-service model, where patrons order and pay at the bar – quite the contrast to the 20 front of house staff on weekends at the Builder’s.

“I’ve worked fine-dining, I know how to upsell, but pubs need to be aware you need to be there for the return custom.

“Restaurants, you’re always going there for a meal. A pub, you’re going for a meal, to catch-up with mates, you might be there on a date, watching footy or a beer before you go to the footy. You need to make sure that when someone comes in they feel they’re getting value for money.”

Hammond plans to have the new Victoria Hotel – moving away from any reference to Hart’s – open mid-October, and well suited to the people of Footscray.

“They say you can’t appeal to everyone, but you can appeal to a very broad market if you do the right thing, by providing a family-friendly and women-friendly environment.

“It’ll be terrific if people want to come over from Fitzroy or St Kilda or whatever, but the people that will pay our rent every week will be the people that live in our surrounding area.”

Image: Google maps