Wig and Pen's future under threat

Wig and Pen's future under threat

Canberra’s popular brewpub the Wig and Pen could be facing its last round of drinks, following the progressing of plans to redevelop Canberra House.

Owner Lachie McOmish said he could be forced to shut the popular tavern and brewery if he could not find a suitable and affordable location to move the business.

Jeremy Michael serves a beer at the Wig and Pen at Canberra House.

Jeremy Michael serves a beer at the Wig and Pen at Canberra House.Credit:Rohan Thomson

He said moving back into the building once it was completed was not an option.


Building owners Morris Property Group have lodged a development application for the demolition of the Canberra House annexe and the construction of a 16-storey residential and retail complex.

The Wig and Pen's Amelia Davies outside the pub in Canberra House.

The Wig and Pen's Amelia Davies outside the pub in Canberra House.Credit:Rohan Thomson

While all of the ground floor tenants have been offered the chance to move back into new premises once the new building is standing in place of the arcade, not all will return.

Mr McOmish said he was still examining potential sites but the huge costs of moving and complying with regulations and red tape could end the business in the ACT.

The brewery owner wrote to the ACT government recently calling for support for not just the Wig and Pen, but the other traders in Canberra House, in ensuring their businesses could continue.

“It would be a shame to shut it down [but] if it is too expensive to move I’m not doing it,” Mr McOmish said.

He had previously flagged a move to Sydney or Melbourne when the redevelopment proposal was first talked about.

Mr McOmish said he was hoping the government could offer the Wig and Pen a fast tracked development application process for a new site and flexibility on some technical regulations that would be prohibitive to the move.

He said he ideally wants to keep the popular business in Canberra.

The Wig and Pen’s master brewer Richard Watkins left the brewery about three weeks ago to start his own business, the BentSpoke Brewing Company, in Morris Property Group’s new Habitat development in Braddon.

He said one of the reasons behind his move was that the Canberra House redevelopment plans were imminent.

According to the development application the office block and basement will be retained and a new apartment and retail complex will be built next to it.

The approval process is expected to take about six months.

Tenants of the 1970s building have been aware of the possibility of redevelopment for years and most had been moved onto month-to-month leases under the previous building owner.

Canberra House’s last remaining original tenant Vision City will not come back to the new building when it’s completed.

Owner Colin Skelton, who moved his business into the arcade in 1975, said he was utterly devastated by the news but could not criticise the developer for wanting progress.

He said the Morris Property Group had offered him first pick of the new premises but he could not see himself coming back.

“They’re within their rights, they’re in business to do business, you can’t knock anyone down for that,” Mr Skelton said.

“I don’t have any bad feelings about the developers, that’s progress, but I am a bit sad.”


Mr Skelton said he had not yet found a suitable location for his business and would make a final decision if and when the development application was approved.

The Canberra Club, which will also not be part of the new development, has been contacted for comment.

Meredith Clisby is the Editor of the Sunday Canberra Times