Savoy Tavern: from eyesore to icon
Once dubbed Melbourne's biggest eyesore, the Savoy Tavern has been brought back to life, with the iconic pub set to reopen this week.PT2M55S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-34k4z 620 349 March 11, 2014
It is the great reveal, the city mystery that has puzzled commuters and office workers for decades. What is the story behind the boarded-up old building on the corner of Bourke and Spencer streets?
On Thursday at 11am the mystery will end when the Savoy Tavern opens its doors to the public once more – almost 20 years after the last beer was poured at the once popular watering hole.
Builders have been working around clock to have the venue ready for the start of the AFL season, and with Collingwood playing at Etihad on Friday night, the Savoy Tavern is gearing up for a busy first 24 hours.
Lord mayor Robert Doyle drops in at the newly refurbished Savoy Tavern. Photo: Angela Wylie
As the hoardings have slowly come down this week as part of the $1 million renovation, increasing numbers have gathered to peer into one of Melbourne’s great talking points for 20 years.
Its derelict state and extended closure have made the Savoy Tavern one of the most famous buildings in the city. Owner Mark Rowsthorn and business partner Sam Daish now see the building returning to its popular bar days.
Lord mayor Robert Doyle campaigned hard to rejuvenate the Savoy Tavern site.
Savoy Tavern receives a makeover
Sam Daish working at The Savoy Tavern in Spencer St which will re-open after almost 20 years. Photo: Angela Wylie
‘‘Eyesore back to icon – the Savoy is something I have criticised in the past,’’ he said. ‘‘I said it was like the scab on the knee of the city, and it was.
‘‘Instead of being a bomb site, it will be a place of activity, a place of fun, a place to draw people, and it has a particularly 1970s feel, with a contemporary Melbourne feel that I think is brilliantly done.’’
Cr Doyle even recalled a tryst at the venue in his earlier days. ‘‘I have some very fond memories here and I hope I haven’t scarred a nice girl for life, but in the very old days in the 1970s the upstairs bar was a place of sophistication, the Tropicana Bar, complete with plastic palm trees,’’ he said. ‘‘I did kiss a girl there in the 1970s; it may have been over a Harvey Wallbanger.’’
Nick Harding, of HA Architecture, directed the renovation of the site, incorporating the grungy feel of the old building into the new design. The wooden bar was retained and bricks from one of the walls were used to build pot plant stands.
‘‘We saw it as an opportunity to interact with the local community,’’ he said. ‘‘One of the key design strategies was to unpick the existing building and reinterpret it; moving away from the tradition of the old tavern where everything was internalised and creating a really great interface with Spencer Street Station.’’
There is much history in the old bar, with rail workers already approaching the owners about holding reunion drinks at their old drinking spot.
Mr Daish, a Collingwood supporter, said he was very excited to have the venue open for the first round.
‘‘This is a cornerstone site on one of the busiest corners in the city; it’s across from the busiest train station in Victoria,'' he said.
‘'This is a Young and Jackson site just 100 years later, it is a 1970s pub, not a Victorian premise. It is that significant for this generation.’’
Work on the bar will continue after its opening, with plans for a corner cafe and even an upstairs terrace at a later stage.
‘‘If you look at the amount of people staring through the window, asking questions, the levels of anticipation in the project are quite high compared to most other new hospitality premises,’’ Mr Daish said. ‘‘It is not about being fancy, it’s not about being for corporates, it’s not about being a footy pub, it’s not about being a rough as guts pub, it’s about an everyman pub.’’