Lunch with Andy Mullins, the man who wants to bring Australia’s most famous pub back to life

Andy Mullins loves pubs, however not in the approach you or I’d. He completely lives and breathes them.

“Do you recognize that e-book McCarthy’s Bar,” he asks me over lunch at Pastuso, the Peruvian restaurant tucked down Duckboard Place, considered one of the little alleys off the prime finish of Flinders Lane. “My dad gave me a copy, and [reading it] I realised what a pub used to be – a place you celebrated births, deaths, love, loss, triumphs.” A spot, in different phrases, that is proper at the coronary heart of what we used to name group.

It is perhaps overreaching to say that is what Mullins and his companions in the Sand Hill Road group try to construct with their string of eight (and counting) pubs, since their main goal is to run a worthwhile enterprise. But it would not be solely fallacious, both.

Andy Mullins chews the fats over lunch at Pastuso restaurant. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

Visit the firm’s web site and you will be met by a bunch of phrases in big sort. Laugh. Learn. Live. Love (in the type of a coronary heart emoji). Life.

There’s a web page devoted to Karma Kegs, too, a scheme whereby they donate the proceeds from a few hours value of beer gross sales every week to charities, principally targeted on the Indigenous group in Port Augusta, South Australia.

“Between 5pm and 7pm every Friday, we’ll donate the beer, and you come in and pay what you think it’s worth,” he says. “You could in theory pay 10 cents for a pot, but we always take more [on the night] than the standard price, because people care.”

Peruvian pork sausage with poached egg on panka and onions.
Peruvian pork sausage with poached egg on panka and onions. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

Not everybody, thoughts. “We had a young tradie come in and buy six pints for $3. The staff said that’s not what it’s really about, but they couldn’t force him to do any different. Anyway, he had his one beer, walked outside and he had a parking ticket on his car. So he ended up paying $72 for those pints.”

That’s karma for you.

Sand Hill Road began in May 2000 when Mullins and his brother Matt and two mates, Doug Maskiell and Tom Birch, give up their day jobs in finance and advertising, pooled their cash and took over the lease of the Commercial Club Hotel in Fitzroy. “The whole thing was Doug’s dream, and he made the mistake of telling the rest of us,” Andy says. “We kind of hijacked it.”

They lived on website with 17 mates whereas they renovated. “We built it ourselves, did our own plumbing and electrical, electrocuted ourselves in the process,” he says gleefully. “I struck my chisel into a wire. It sent me back about three metres.”

They had no cash, and no probability of securing a mortgage, in order that they satisfied 28 mates to chip in anyplace between $1000 and $6000 a bit to fund the enterprise.

“That first time was amazing. We were doing things 16 years ago that would now be called hipster. We had no beer signage in the place, no TVs, no parmas, no billiard tables. We had a budget of about $30,000, and we spent about six grand of it on the women’s toilets to make them nice.”

Ceviche at Pastuso.
Ceviche at Pastuso. Photo: Vince Caligiuri

Smart transfer. “It was an instinctive move. When we bought that pub it still had a Ladies Lounge. That showed us how much pub culture had to change, if we were going to attract a new market, particularly a female market. We had to take the music seriously, we had to take the design seriously. That really set the blueprint for how we approach hospitality.”

By the time Mullins and I sat down to lunch, the 4 companions had purchased 10 pubs, on-selling three of them. Their portfolio included the Terminus Hotel in Abbotsford, the Bridge Hotel, the Richmond Club Hotel, the Posty and Holliova in Richmond, the Prahran Hotel. They’ve since added the Waterside Hotel on the nook of Flinders and King streets to the secure.

The jewel in the crown, although, is Garden State Hotel in Flinders Lane, simply round the nook from the place we’re devouring a scrumptious plate of Peruvian pork sausage, coiled like a snake round a poached egg atop onion puree and panko crumb. “You break the egg and onion to make a sauce,” the waitress helpfully instructs.

Alfred Felton: Famous resident of the Epsy.
Alfred Felton: Famous resident of the Epsy.  Photo: National Gallery of Victoria

Their pubs are trendy affairs, with nice design and sensible meals respiration new life into previous buildings. But Garden State is one thing else, a $12 million rebuild of what was as soon as Rosatis (and, lengthy earlier than that, an auto mechanics). Mullins says they’d eyed the website for about 5 years earlier than they received their probability, and once they did it took simply 24 hours to full the deal with the Zagame household, who had toyed with constructing an 11-storey tower on it.

“We went all in on this one,” he says. “It was a sit-down with our wives, individually and collectively. Savings that could have gone into our lives have gone into this. It’s a 40-year lease, which protects our families, because it means if it doesn’t work we’ve got time to fix it. But if it doesn’t pay itself back we’re selling the houses and moving back to the country.”

The Mullins boys grew up in Gippsland, close to Morwell. Their father was a lawyer who went into the restaurant enterprise. When Andy was in his early teenagers, the household moved to Melbourne. It was a traumatic shift.

“I’d only been to the city a couple of times, to see the shop windows at Myer, so when Mum said we were moving here I thought we were moving into those windows,” he says. “My hair started falling out in clumps due to the stress. Mum asked what’s wrong, and eventually I said, ‘I can’t go there’. She said, ‘Where do you think we’re going?’ And I said, ‘Those windows, with everyone looking at us’.”

Is there a clue in that story to assist clarify why the Sand Hill Road boys have a second string to their bow, as filmmakers? The firm produced Melanie Hogan’s 2006 documentary Kanyini, about Indigenous thinker Bob Randall, and the 2010 brief movie Minnie Loves Junior (Andy and Matt wrote and directed, Tom and Doug wrote and produced), a few budding love between two Indigenous kids in Port Augusta. The brief performed at greater than 70 worldwide festivals (together with Berlin) and gained various prizes, together with a $10,000 money award that the companions used to construct a BMX monitor in the city the place it was shot.

Just like with operating pubs, none of them had any expertise in filmmaking till they did it. The curiosity stays, although the time to pursue it does not. “We’d like to make a feature one day,” says Mullins. “But it’s probably a couple of years away.”

At any price, he is aware of all eyes can be on the group’s subsequent transfer. They’ve taken on maybe the most iconic pub constructing in Melbourne, the Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda.

They purchased the constructing outright from earlier house owners Vince Sofo and Paul Adamo, who had owned it since 2006, in May last year. It is the pub of their goals, says Mullins, however they know it is the pub of everybody else’s goals too.

“The day we signed, Vince said, ‘As much as you’ve bought the Espy, you’ll never own it. It belongs to Melbourne’.”

As quickly as phrase obtained out, the calls began coming in, “from ex band bookers, patrons, musicians, the historical society, locals”. Taking it on is “a serious legacy”, Mullins says, however after two years in mothballs, “everyone just wants to see it open again”.

Buying the Espy has wrought a number of modifications in the approach Sand Hill Road does enterprise. They’ve taken on a fifth companion, long-time financier Andrew Lark. They’ve additionally had to go to the financial institution for the first time, borrowing the cash (rumoured to be about the similar as they’ve spent on Garden State) for the refurbishment that may open up elements of the constructing few even knew existed.

The Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda has been closed since November 2015.

The Esplanade Hotel in St Kilda has been closed since November 2015. Photo: Scott Barbour

“No one alive today who didn’t work at the Espy would have seen the levels above the grand staircase,” he says, and few would realise it is truly a five-level lodge. “There’s a basement, sub-basement, the ground floor, which is what most people are familiar with, and two levels above it. It’s going to be pretty exciting to open it up again.”

Researching the lodge’s historical past has given Mullins and his companions an perception into considered one of the most influential “confirmed bachelors” in the historical past of Melbourne, Alfred Felton, the man whose bequest helped fund lots of the National Gallery of Victoria’s grandest purchases.

“He lived at the Espy, he died at the Espy, he had two rooms – a reception room and his bedroom – at the Espy. They were stuffed full of documents, maps, artefacts and art, whiskey and wine.”

When it lastly re-opens, in all probability round November, the prime degree can be was a cocktail bar referred to as The Ghost of Alfred Felton, flippantly renovated to create the impression he is solely simply stepped out.

There can be three reside music levels too – in the entrance bar, as of previous, in the Gershwin Room (the place the long-running TV present RocKwiz is filmed, that is the one a part of the constructing that is largely practical at the second), and in the basement.

“We’ll try and pay respects to the full history of the place,” he says. After all, it is what the group wants.

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