Rise of the microbrewery, fall of the pub and the demise of Melbourne's historic built form

Rise of the microbrewery, fall of the pub and the demise of Melbourne's historic built form
Rise of the microbrewery, fall of the pub and the demise of Melbourne's historic built form

It seems many of inner Melbourne's pubs are in trouble. Times have changed, but more specifically the core demographic, entertainment options and the city itself have changed.

Long gone are the days where the corner pub was the staple (and in some cases the only) option of previous generations; Melbourne is now a 24 hour city with a multitude of entertainment options. And so in this respect it should come as no great surprise that many of inner Melbourne's pubs are under pressure in terms of remaining viable businesses.

The list of pubs under threat in recent times has ballooned. Urban Melbourne first broke the news that Port Melbourne's London Hotel and South Melbourne's Palmerston Hotel were both subject to apartment-based developments.

In recent times the CBD's Great Western and St Kilda's Greyhound Hotel have been added to the list, whilst the latest endangered venue is Kensington's The Quiet Man - a pub with heritage dating back to the 1880's.

Rise of the microbrewery, fall of the pub and the demise of Melbourne's historic built form
The Quiet Man's new purpose? Planning image: Plus Architecture

The Quiet Man's planning application would see the structure, which has been augmented at various times over its existence, demolished completely for a 9 level apartment building containing 46 dwellings and ground floor retail.

The why

So why has the pub scene across Melbourne declined to the point where many of this city's well known venues are struggling, or have conceded? In the broader sense, Australians are drinking less alcohol overall than any time in the previous 50 years, as per this ABS media release and this ABC news article.

Whilst top end consumption is lessening, the humble pub is also under attack from the bottom end, aka the microbrewery.

Evolving drinking habits are backed by current planning trends; planning applications for genuine 'pubs' are few and far between, but not so the humble microbrewery.

Melbourne City Council for instance are currently handling at leash three planning applications for new small-scale breweries/bars, namely 38-44 Barrett Street Kensington, 40-48 Stubbs Street Kensington and 22-24 Bennetts Lane Melbourne. The latter replaces a mid-rise apartment proposal for the narrow CBD site.

In this sense people are not necessarily turning away from the enjoyment of alcohol, but increasingly heading down a different avenue - an avenue which shuns 'old school' pubs' or at least pubs which haven't moved with the times.

Whilst the increasing popularity of microbreweries is merely a more recent contributing factor to many a pubs woes, it along with a gradual cultural shift away from the humble pub has led to the rash of closures and development.

The how

Rise of the microbrewery, fall of the pub and the demise of Melbourne's historic built form
Great Western Hotel no more? Planning image: DKO Architecture

So how is it that many of inner Melbourne's grand pub venues can be bowled over for development? Pubs are no more or less important than many of Melbourne's heritage structures that have fallen in recent years, but they represent a very tangible link to Melbourne's past for many people - memories and first-hand experience go a long way. Just ask the masses who fought to save The Palace on Bourke Street.

Emotional attachment aside, Melbourne stands to lose some historic buildings, a loss that is detrimental to this city's urban fabric. The Stork, Duke of Kent, Footscray's Belgravia Hotel and The Corkman Irish Pub fiasco are but a few examples.

The right to development exists, but at what cost? Is it the failure of successive councils to adequately protect of heritage? Undoubtedly some Urban Melbourne members would argue yes, and emphatically. So many of Melbourne's historic pubs are disappearing for the sake of development, when in many cases the heritage structure could be incorporated into the development.

When lamenting the loss or likely loss of many of Melbourne's historic pub venues, Prahran's Station Hotel comes to mind. An equitable outcome of both development and heritage...if only it were more commonplace!

Rise of the microbrewery, fall of the pub and the demise of Melbourne's historic built form
Prahran's Station Hotel: a blend of old and new. Image: Figurehead

Mark Baljak

Mark Baljak

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theboynoodle's picture
Quite. The system is so perverse that, economically, speaking, it's better to develop a site with a two-storey heritage pub than (say) a three-storey non-descript 60's office block. Because the pub is worth less as it stands, and so the gain from development is greater. There's a chance for some really good journalism here (are you reading, Clay?) asking why this keeps happening to pubs (and other small old buildings). And I think it's a function of the types of buildings that pubs are, how and when they were built, how social/lifestyle changes have diminished their value in use, and how the planning system makes them obvious targets. Developers shouldn't get a 'pass' for the contempt they have for heritage buildings, but they're just doing what makes sense, economically, for them. If the system changes then they will respond.. so it's for Spring Street to take notice and take action. We need development, especially in the central and inner city... but there are SOOO many sites that should be getting it before this one. How obvious does it need to be that something is wrong??
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bilby
Theboynoodle has a point - other cities trade air rights for uplift in just this way (e.g. New York). In the case of the Great Western, the outcome should in no way be seen as a "win" - instead, it just cements the bad practice of facadism as somehow "acceptable" in heritage terms. In this case, given the extent of loss to an otherwise intact, original gold rush era pub, it would have been better to just demolish the whole thing. The key features that were of interest here (the yard and original rear bluestone walls) will be lost anyway
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nwharr
The 208 King Street proposal has been amended to retain the facades of the ‘Great Western Hotel’ On King Street and Little Bourke Street. This is probably as good as you could ask for on a site with no heritage overla.
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Melbourne_Fragments
The fact that the article doesn't mention the main reason being developers who can buy the land for multi millions of dollars, thus making any use besides high density apartment development pointless, is a bit telling of an agenda... meanwhile http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-03/footscray-hotel-shuns-developers-to-help-those-in-need/8318516
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theboynoodle's picture
Developers will pay millions for the sites *because* they can developed as high density apartments. Site values are a function of development options. If a site can be redeveloped because the planning rules say so then, of course, the owners only have that option if they want to realize that site value. Other then hoping for site owners to choose heritage over vast financial gains, the options are stricter heritage controls that make development impossible or (which I prefer) air-rights trading rules that allow the owners of undeveloped blocks to unlock the value of the space above by flogging it to owners of other sites. So, for example, instead of using undefined standards of "state significance" to enable Crown to go beyond the height limits, we could have had them purchase air rights from (say) the Celtic Club.
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