Laundy family swoops to buy Woolloomooloo’s Bells Hotel
Veteran pub family patriarch Arthur Laundy has bought The Bells Hotel in Woolloomooloo — swooping in pre-auction amid an acquisitions battle between Sydney publicans.
The historic 1920s pub, which had a price guide of about $15 million, was sold before Thursday’s scheduled auction.
It takes the Laundy family’s hotel empire to more than 20 freehold venues across NSW, including the Watsons Bay Hotel, Woolwich Pier near Hunters Hill and Quarryman’s Hotel in Pyrmont.
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Laundy recently expressed concern about “silly prices” for hotels, signalling he’d be steering clear of what he called a “crazy market” — but The Bells was irresistible.
Laundy, 77, also owns the neighbouring Woolloomooloo Bay Hotel, which cost $20 million two years ago.
Rival hotelier Justin Hemmes had been pinpointed as also having a likely interest in buying The Bells.
The Laundy family net worth is about $500 million, while Hemmes presides over the Merivale hospitality and liquor empire estimated to be worth $950 million.
The Bells’ previous owners called time at the iconic pub, after initially securing the leasehold in 1976 and then buying out Tooth in 1990. The pub at 1 Bourke St was known for legendary family matriarch Lil Miles, who worked behind the bar until age 96.
Erin Petersen, from the Miles family, says there has been a number of pre-auction offers.
“The family has loved the 45 years at Bells and, while it is the end of an era for us, we are happy to sell to Arthur, a long-time local publican who we are sure will only be an asset to further develop the potential of our much-loved pub” Petersen says.
The sale was secured by Andrew Jolliffe, who has sold more than $1.75 billion worth of pubs in the past six years — including the Centennial in Woollahra to Hemmes’ Merivale.
Jolliffe notes that there is interest in The Bells, a prominently positioned asset, from a wide spectrum of well-known hospitality operatives and commercial property specialists.
The Laundy family company, which has been in pubs since the 1940s, includes scions Stuart, the socialite publican who briefly won Sophie Monk’s heart on reality dating show The Bachelorette, and Liberal politician Craig.
Arthur Laundy typically fronts up every day at the Laundy headquarters in Bass Hill’s Twin Willows Hotel, built in 1963 by his late father Arthur Sr who bought the land for £38,000.
But the family pub business had begun almost two decades earlier, when Arthur Sr and his wife Veronica took on the Sackville Hotel at Rozelle in 1945.
Arthur Jr and his then wife-to-be Margaret took the reins of the family business, which was then just two hotels including the Twin Willows, in 1969 before building it into the empire it is today.
The $15 million price guide for The Bells indicates the “frothiness” of the hotels market.
Jolliffe says there has been four other hotel sales in the past few weeks, with a number of big-name Sydney publicans competing against each other in a bid to increase their property portfolios.
Some of Sydney’s major publicans the Waugh family, Ryan family, Peter Calligeros, the De Angelis family, the Arnout brothers, and Pat and Angela Gallgaher.
Hemmes and his family have ownership of 70 hotels, restaurants and venues around Sydney.
The Bells Hotel, adjacent to the Woolloomooloo Finger Wharf, features a main bar, bistro, courtyard, accomodation spanning the entire first level, and eight electronic gaming machines.
There had been a pub on the 340sqm Bourke St corner address since the 1860s.
The original ale house was called Punches servicing the workers of the wharves.
This article from The Daily Telegraph originally appeared as “Laundy family adds iconic Sydney pub ‘The Bells Hotel’ to its vast empire”.