From an old family run pub and guesthouse to a decadent art deco hotel, an American military hot spot to a drag show hub, St Kilda’s Prince Hotel has a rich and diverse history.
The complex was established in the late 1800s when the suburb around it was unrecognisable to what it is today. At one stage it was considered Melbourne’s grandest hotel, at another, it was the unofficial base of the American Military. This is when St Kilda’s red light district was formed with the Prince at the centre, literally, thanks to an actual red light that sat on top of the building at the time.
What’s remained through all the years is the spirit that St Kilda is known for, with The Prince Hotel remaining a constant cornerstone to the community.
As the greater Melbourne area continues to grow and change, so too has the Prince. In 2016 it began its ‘royal revival,’ a remodelling project undertaken by Iva Foschia of IF Architecture. The upcoming relaunch of the bar is the final stage of the project.
The Prince Public Bar opens its doors this summer, and despite the revamp, will celebrate the unique past of the hotel. Operations Manager Jess Harker said it would be hard not to do so.
“We just renovated the hotel and Prince Dining Room and I think that’s kind of been an indicator for us on how we can celebrate history through design cues,” Harker said.
“In the pub, you’ll see the original art deco ceiling reinstated, the original style floors, the original fireplace. There was an old third door on Fitzroy Street that we’ll be bringing back in, and on top of that, the original island bar that once sat between the saloon and the public bar.”
Harker also teased at another historical element that will be showcased and said: “We have a tiny little nod to the gay community that we are putting in there, but we’ll keep that hush until we actually open the doors.”
With the Prince being one of the first Melbourne venues to embrace the gay and lesbian scene, there’s plenty of inspiration for such a nod. From the 1970s, it housed legendary drag show Pokeys on a Sunday night, and lesbian disco Pennies on a Saturday night.
The longstanding connection to the local LGBTQIA+ community is further bolstered by a new neighbour to the Prince coming on Fitzroy Street, The Victorian Pride Centre.
The centre is described as an LGBTIQ community hub and will open in February 2020, around the time that The Public Bar has lots of planned activity.
“We’re aiming to open in late November, early December, so we’ll probably just open the doors and see what happens, but in February we’ll really capitalise on what I think is the most festive month in St Kilda,” Harker explained.
“Around mid-summer is Gay Pride, St Kilda Festival’s fortieth birthday… The following week we’ll aim to have a bib revival launch for the entire complex and really shout out that the Public Bar is back and The Prince is back.”
Managing Director Andrew Ryan says it will be a vital moment for the whole area.
“This is a really significant moment, not just for The Prince Hotel, but for the entire suburb of St Kilda, which has undergone its own transformation in recent years,” Ryan said.
“The Prince Hotel has established itself as a proud mainstay of St Kilda’s landscape for generations, and the transformation invites a new wave of St Kilda locals to discover this iconic venue.”
In preparation for the summer relaunch, The Prince have organised a bar offering featuring local and international tap beers, a broad range of wines and a limited boutique collection of spirits.
Harker described the goals for the menu and said: “I think people tend to overthink what is behind the bar sometimes. We want everyone to have a place to feel comfortable grab a cold beer, a glass of wine and delicious food in a really comfortable environment.”
While the team who will be serving up the comfy menu isn’t on board yet, Harker said they have hired the bar’s senior management team. She said: “The best thing about it is they’re all girls. Amazing females from a diverse background of nightclubs, pubs, breweries, and restaurants. To see them all come together and utilize that diverse skill set will be really, really special once we get to open the doors.”