The secrets of one of Melbourne’s oldest pubs

The Mitre Tavern as it was in 1971.
The Mitre Tavern as it was in 1971.

Plenty of folks dream of owning a pub, but how about Melbourne’s oldest watering hole?

A relic of the city’s history surrounded by skyscrapers, publicans have been slinging suds at the Mitre Tavern since the late 1860s.

But historical records can trace the Mitre Tavern’s past further than that.

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The land it now stands on was first sold to Charles Ebden, one of Victoria’s earliest politicians, as part of three plots of land along Collins St for 136 pounds in 1837.

That equates to about $25,500 in today’s currency.

He sold the land and it was eventually subdivided and the Mitre Tavern built on the site — initially as a home, which is believed to date back to before 1850.

It was a pub by 1868, run by Henry Thompson.

Mitre Tavern Melbourne

The tavern almost 100 years later, in 1956.

In the 1920s it was bought by the Royal Insurance Company.

More recently, the pub has been owned by a series of private investors, changing hands four times since the turn of the millennium.

Avner Klein, the chief executive of the Point Trading Group, which works for the Australian Defence Force among other clients, splashed $6.25 million to buy the pub from Toorak-based investor Ian Hicks in 2012.

Mitre Tavern Melbourne

An image of the hotel in 1987 shows the scale of the city skyscrapers surrounding it.

And he made a dream a reality in the process.

“It was my dream for a long time to have a heritage property,” Klein says.

“And it’s something that’s been a dream come true — and now we are maintaining the place as an icon.”

Owning the keys to the city’s oldest pub comes with a few perks.

He’s one of the few people to have had a chance to wander the tavern’s basement levels.

“There used to be a tunnel from the tavern to the river,” he reveals.

Before it was blocked, the tunnel is believed to have been used to ferry beer to the tavern and dodge taxes in the city’s earlier days, Klein adds.

Mitre Tavern Melbourne

The Mitre Tavern in Bank Place as it stands today.

It’s also one of the few buildings left in the city with its own ghost — reputedly haunted by the ghost of Connie Waugh, a mistress to Sir Rupert Clarke who was believed to have hanged herself in the Tavern.

Though as ghosts go, she’s more like a good fairy, Klein says.

“It’s an honour to own such a piece of history, and it’s lovely to upgrade it and prepare it for the future.”

The manager of the pub, and the team working there have also done an excellent job of maintaining the city’s oldest watering hole, Klein adds.

“It’s something to be proud of for us, for it to have been there so long and to continue to trade and to be kept for future generations,” he says.

This article from the Herald Sun first appeared as “Melbourne’s oldest pub owner has tapped into a few of its secrets”.