The Espy sells, Cherry Tree up for grabs as Melbourne pubs bounce back from pandemic slump

Chief executive of Australian Venue Co Paul Waterson, who this week cemented a deal to buy eight well-known leasehold venues from Sand Hill Road group, said like-for-like sales across its 180-strong portfolio were up 12 per cent on pre- pandemic levels.

Brunswick Street’s Labor in Vain hotel.Credit:

“Since December last year it’s very much caught up,” Waterson said.

City hotels are trading at similar levels to suburban venues despite the slow return of workers to office towers.

Strong evening trade, particularly a lift on Thursdays, and weekend customers are boosting CBD hotels, he said.

“Venues are not limited by demand, but by the capacity of staff,” he said.

Australian Venue Co, backed by private equity giant KKR, reignited a $100 million deal – put on hold at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – to buy a bag of leaseholds from Sand Hill Road.

They include the Espy in St Kilda, Garden State on Flinders Lane, Prahran Hotel, the Terminus Hotel in Abbotsford, Richmond Club Hotel, The Posty, Bridge Hotel and Holliava.

Waterson said the pandemic’s latest Omicron wave hasn’t affected pub-goers. “Each time a wave comes through, we’re seeing a lot more resilience.”

“For the first time in three years we are seeing large corporate Christmas functions. We’re seeing strong bookings and quite extravagant parties planned for December,” he said.

Fronted by brothers Andy and Matt Mullins, Sand Hill Road has collected, renovated, bought, sold and built a number of well-known Melbourne watering holes.

Andy Mullins said the group still owned and had big plans for the Waterside Hotel in Flinders Street, which was not part of the deal with Australian Venue Co.

“We’re committed to a big future in hospitality in Melbourne,” Mullins said.

Back in Cremorne, former Great Britain Hotel operators, Chris and Penny Hodges have run the Cherry Tree since 2014 and their lease has a few years to run.

Allen wasn’t the only lowlife associated with the pub built during the Goldrush in the 1850-1860s on a corner facing the Cremorne Pleasure Gardens. Career criminal Squizzy Taylor also apparently jumped the bar and stole 10 shillings out of the till in 1908.

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