SAND HILL RD UNVEIL PLANS FOR THE ESPY

In Openings by Clyde Mooney

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Sand Hill Road has announced its pending revival of the iconic Hotel Esplanade – The Espy – eyeing a “new cultural destination” for Melbourne and magnificent sunsets over Port Phillip Bay.

Melbourne-based pub group Sand Hill Road (SHR) ‘secured’ the famous St Kilda pub mid-2017, taking on a stalled plan to reinvigorate the institutional music venue. Its multiple stages had played countless live acts over generations, and for years shooting of the ABC’s popular Rockwiz program took place in the fabled Gershwin Room.

Faced with the recreation of a legend SHR has diligently investigated the 140-year history of the five-storey Hotel, but also engaged with local community – residents, artists, bookers, comedians, managers, family and friends – to find what The Espy of the future should be.

SHR director Andy Mullins recalls a solemn conversation with former custodians Vince Sofo and Paul Adamo.

“They said that we might have bought The Espy, but we’d never really own it. It belongs to the people of Melbourne.

“We have always loved the pub, but we know that it holds a special place in many different hearts for many different reasons. There’s no other pub like it in Australia.”

After a year of planning and submissions on the heritage beauty, the Hotel Esplanade will officially reopen its doors this November for the first time since 2015, restored to its former grandeur and glory, and new home to a “dynamic range of lifestyle experiences”.

The Hotel’s status is not undeserved, embroiled in folklore and shrouded in mystery. For many years only two of the levels were open to the public.

The new incarnation will embrace and expand on the historic, revealing parts of the building never seen before. Accompanying the basement stage is the iconic public bar, leading up to the main bar, the garden terrace overlooking St Kilda pier, and the Gershwin Room.

Above will be a Cantonese restaurant with accompanying cocktail bar called Mya Tiger, and sophisticated cocktail bar The Ghost of Alfred Felton will inhabit the top floor – in tribute to The Espy’s most notable resident, a wealthy chemist and art-lover who lived and died at the seaside hotel.

The overarching philosophy for designers Techne Architects centred on “kick-arse Victorian grandeur”, honouring its history while looking to its future. Each area will have its own unique feel, and stylist Eleisha Gray has scoured the world for original 19th Century furniture and antiques to be used throughout.

The heart of the venue will be casual dining space The Espy kitchen, the former loading bay transformed into a warm and open area and open-plan kitchen showcasing charcoal grills, pizza ovens and rotisseries, under the watchful gaze of executive chef Ash Hicks.

SHR group bars manager Kevin Peters and group sommelier Matt Skinner are developing a comprehensive drinks programme, including hand-selected cellars and a beer and spirits barrel-aging program.

And ushering back its music heritage, the tradition will continue with three stages catering to the eclectic range of contemporary musical tastes, with Rock-wiz creator Peter Bain-Hogg on board as entertainment manager.

Set to take on 300 new employees at what will be the group’s tenth venue, Mullins says The Espy will genuinely be for the people.

“We’re not trying to please one market, that’s not The Espy.

“We’re going all out to create a world-class cocktail bar, and then only 27 stairs away have 800 people looking out to the ocean, drinking beers and smashing pizzas, or heading into a gig at one of the stages inside.

“Different types of people, there for different reasons, day and night. That’s always been The Espy – a melting pot of Melbourne.”

The Espy team

Map: Google