Austral Hotel revamped with new areas for DJs and bands

A Japanese-style listening bar will feature in a revamped Austral Hotel when it reopens in the new year under new ownership.

Brettski Stewart, who opened and ran Lotus Lounge for 14 years, has taken over the iconic Rundle Street venue and commenced major renovations.

Together with a group of investors, he’s pumping up to $400,000 into the hotel, creating new spaces for live music, DJs, functions and bars.

“We’re keeping the same feel downstairs, keeping the wooden bar and doing it up behind the bar to make it a bit more modern,” he said.

“The old Bunker we’re calling the Gala Room, putting in floor to ceiling curtains, making it more into a theatrical space where we’ll have bands and DJs.

“And upstairs we’re transforming the space into a Japanese-style listening room – a bar, cafe where we’ll feature albums on an audiophile sound system – and a dedicated function space.”

Mr Stewart’s experience in the local hospitality scene includes stints with The Stag, the Royal Oak, Botanic Bar and Cafe Salsa.

He sold Lotus Lounge on Morphett Street in the city last year, and planned to join the city’s flourishing small bars scene. But when The Austral hit the market, it was an opportunity too good to pass up.

The Austral Hotel on Rundle Street is one of the city’s most instantly recognisable venues.

“I was looking for a space to open a small bar, but we thought the market was a bit saturated so we decided to go for something that’s an institution,” he said.

“The Austral came to the market and we moved on it pretty quickly. I consider it the best located pub in the state, and even though we were still facing COVID restrictions at the time, we saw it as an exciting opportunity.

“We have a 30-year lease and if I’m going to take a risk in hospitality I want to do it with something like the Austral.”

The building’s history dates back to the early 1880s when it was built for the South Australian Company – an enterprise that developed some of the state’s early infrastructure and industries such as fishing and mining.

Mr Stewart said the renovations were sympathetic to the building’s history and heritage, and he was also in talks with the council about adding outdoor seating on Bent Street.

“We’ve considered the heritage of the building and if anything we’re bringing it back up to how it was originally proposed to look,” he said.

“We’re not ripping out the walls upstairs – instead we’re putting in large ornamental archways that will create rooms that speak to each other.

“The balcony upstairs has great views down Rundle Street, looking over the new buildings, and it will be open to the public.”

Langfords Hotel Brokers managing director John Langford, who facilitated the sale of the Austral, said hotels were currently attracting significant interest despite the lingering impact of COVID-19.

The pub’s interior is almost unrecognisable amid the comprehensive renovations. Picture: Tom Huntley

“The reports I’m getting from publicans is that they’re really busy, and that’s important especially at this time of the year,” he said.

“The right pub in the right location run under the right management can do extremely well, and I’m getting a lot of inquiries, especially in the last month or six weeks. There’s certainly an air of confidence out there.”

The State Heritage-listed Austral Hotel building is owned by local art collector Malgosia Schild, who last year attempted to evict previous publicans, Hannah Michell of the Michell Wool family and husband David Gilbert, following a bitter lease dispute.

The Austral will reopen early next year.