Opening Celebration Weekend August 31 – September 2
On Friday August 31, after 18 months of careful post-flood restoration, the mighty Regatta Hotel on Coronation Drive in Toowong will officially reclaim the title of the Grand Lady of the Brisbane River, kicking off a three-day reopening weekend celebration.
Following a very careful $10million restoration program following the devastating January 2011 Floods, this hotel, the site of 138 years of history, will throw open her historic doors and welcome Brisbane to celebrate on her cast iron-laced verandahs and amid her famous brick-worked walls.
The opening weekend will be the first time the hotel has completely opened to the general public all areas – The Front Bar, The Courtyard (new area), The Boatshed and The Cellar Bar, Street Café and Gaming Room. Unveiled will be the seamless merging of a very sensitive heritage restoration of original architect Richard Gailey’s acclaimed craftsmanship, with exciting new design and functionality for The Boatshed and The Courtyard.
The Opening Weekend will feature complimentary tasting plates from Friday evening through to Sunday evening; guided tours of the hotel; a great music lineup; a live broadcast by B105’s Labby, Stav and Abby on Friday morning with The Veronicas playing live, a visit from Kath and Kim and much more. The hotel is producing dated, collector’s edition Regatta Hotel coasters to mark the weekend. Over the weekend a number of special visitors are expected to share in the celebrations. One name indelibly inked into the history annals of The Regatta Hotel is Merle Thornton, the women who on a warm afternoon on March 31, 1965, chained herself to the Public Bar as a stand against women not being allowed in this area of Queensland hotels. In doing so, she forever changed history.
“For almost 140 years Brisbane has met, mingled and created stories at The Regatta Hotel’s historic bars,” said Regatta Hotel Manager, Zoran Stojcevski, who began with the hotel the day after the floods hit and spent the first two weeks of his time covered in Brisbane River mud. “As a seasoned entertainer, The Regatta has had her feet wet more times than a patron has had a spill with the amber; but she wasn’t counting on gumboots and holding her breath as the sun rose over the floodwaters of Brisbane on the morning of January 13, 2011. Now, this lady is set to return; history has been rebuilt, setting the stage for a new era.”
The Regatta Hotel is one of Queensland’s most historic and famous pubs, standing sentinel over the Brisbane River. She is classified by the National Trust of Queensland, was entered in the Queensland Heritage Register in 1992 and is also on the Register of the National Estate of Australian Heritage Commission.
Brisbanites are invited to share in the celebrations and come see what’s new at the Regatta Hotel on opening weekend, and be part of the very start of this brand new chapter in the Hotel’s long and rich history. Regatta Hotel est. 1874: For every generation.
The Regatta – The Restoration
The historical Regatta Lane marks the new entry to the hotel from the Sylvan Road car park. This step back through time is a corridor of images and memories, marking the hotel’s near-140 years of history; while hotel flood markers proudly stand at the front of the hotel – and throughout – a stirring reminder of Mother Nature’s power and force. Her external facade heralds a return to the original white with heritage cast-iron balustrades reinstated to complete the grand lady’s crown wrapping surrounding the entire hotel, a lace-like feature for the first time. The outside verandahs have been re-floored and re-tiled to heritage black and white.
The Front Bar
Known previously as the Public Bar, and the site of many historic events, this space has seen the Brisbane River cross its floors on several occasions, with the last finally compromising its structural integrity and submerging its timber floors under a foot of water.
All bi-fold external doors have been replaced with natural timber versions and the grand, original front-curved entry door has been crafted from scratch, returning its hotel corner to a genuine congruity –mirroring the decorative structure of its upper floors, and finally being true to Gailey’s original design scope. All of the internal walls have been painstakingly stripped back and sealed to reveal the original brickwork laced with exposed original conduit. The sand-blasted original bricks are testament to 140 years of stories and patrons – if these walls could only talk!
The space – now entirely opened up and re-air-conditioned – is flanked with heritage style lighting and the bars dressed with sleek, white subway tiles while natural timbers stud the back of bar and bar tops. Timber skirts and brass foot rails frame the bar-front while a seemingly infinite mantle of chalk boards and feature artwork encase the bar’s line of sight. At the Coronation Drive end of the Front Bar, fine wines and champagnes find their home, while at the other end and at the entrance to the courtyard, a Regatta Choice bar will showcase the best spirits – whiskeys, vodkas, rums, tequilas and more. To the rear of the Heritage Bar (Sylvan Road entry) is the re-located TAB gaming area with a lounge studded by the hotel’s beautiful and operational double-sided marble fireplace. It’s elegant and modern, with the wisdom of years of welcoming customers realized in the original design, the homage’s to history; but in such a modern context – super cool!
One of Brisbane’s most famed dining venues, The Boatshed at The Regatta returns to its previous repute under executive Chef Shane Keighley’s guiding hand as a modern steakhouse, specialising in dry aging, showcasing over 15 cuts of steak as part of its new menu. The Boatshed circa 2012 resembles very little of the venue it was in a previous life: it is set to carve a niche as a restaurant of note for gastro-pub dining, tipping steak as its pack leader, and a commitment to fresh, local and seasonal produce as mainstays. The Boatshed – now sans external roller shutters and with a relined roof, glazing and fully air conditioned – features a stunning Private Dining Area as well as bookable booths, a working wine cellar and dry-aged meat cellar, a feature cold room and new open plan kitchen.
What was once a sunken pit and smoking area adjoining the Boatshed to the Regatta Hotel proper is now a beautifully suspended concrete deck which runs seamlessly through the whole level of the heritage site, hosting an entirely new, sophisticated courtyard and beer-garden area with a retractable roof and a stunning Queensland style island bar. This is exciting new space for the hotel and is the final piece in the puzzle, it completes The Regatta-Boatshed story.
The Cellar Bars
It’s funny how history turns things upside-down. The Regatta’s Cellar – formerly a holding area for traveller’s buggy’s and often horses – is now the coolest, most sought after bar space in the city, truly unique and a hidden homage to times gone by. The micro-brewery has gone, a victim of the floods, and the intimate Cellar complete with original exposed brickwork and low labyrinth-like ceilings has been masterfully salvaged, re-air-conditioned and restored for sophisticated lounging. This is a really special space.
The Regatta’s History
She is the Lady of Coronation drive – Queensland royalty. Coronation Drive began as a rough track along the river during the 1840s, initially called Moggill Road and later River Road (The Regatta was born in 1874). In 1937 the River Road was renamed Coronation Drive in honour of the coronation of King George VI, a suggestion made by Archbishop James Duhig. On 13 May 1937, the Queensland Sir planted a small bunya tree on North Quay mark the name change.
In 1874, some 137 years ago, Lawrence Howard Healy built the Regatta Hotel, a modest single story wooden affair; and so began the story of one of Australia’s greatest pubs. In 1882 the license of the hotel was transferred to William Winterford (and there’s a room on Level One named after him). It was constructed at a cost of 4,800 pounds and erected in 1886. The hotel exemplifies the evolution of Queensland’s history and its imposing optimism and exuberance of the times in which it was conceived by celebrated architect of the day, Richard Gailey.
Gailey contributed to the architectural character of Brisbane with his extensive use of cast iron and classical detailing – his signature style stand witness at the Regatta, today. The hotel shares a brethren with Gailey’s other architectural achievements including Brisbane Girls Grammar School, The Empire Hotel (Fortitude Valley), Toowong’s Masonic Hall, Moorlands, the home of the Mayne family (Auchenflower) and Brisbane CBD’s Metro Building and the Baptist City Tabernacle, among others. Naming of the Regatta Hotel would appear to come from the rowing regattas held on the river, recorded as early as the mid 1840’s. The first recorded regattas were held to celebrate Foundation Day, February 13, 1842 and later Separation Day 10th December 1859.
Some interesting moments in time include:
Rowing – In the 1930s The ‘Head of the River’ races were held on the Milton and Toowong reaches of the Brisbane River and the finishing line was opposite Sylvan Road, next to the Regatta Hotel. Rowing regattas on the river were still held in the 1950s with Coronation Drive being closed to traffic while a carnival atmosphere prevailed, especially at The Regatta! Tribute is paid to the Regatta’s rowing heritage through the new design.
University – The Regatta Hotel in the 1960′s, 70′s and 80′s became popular among university students, and today past students still return to the hotel, to relive the memories.
The Games – During the 1982 Commonwealth Games held in Brisbane, large crowds gathered at the Regatta Hotel to watch the marathon runners. Australia’s Robert de Castella took the lead near the rock wall by the Regatta Hotel to the cheering crowd. Deeks time was a new Australian record but 4 seconds short of the Commonwealth record.
America’s Cup – In September of 1983 when Australia II won the America’s Cup, Police had to close the surrounding streets to try and control the large crowds of students and patrons alike celebrating this momentous Australian event at The Regatta.
The flood event of January 2011 wasn’t the worst to flow through the streets and homes of Brisbane. Nor will it be the last. The Regatta hotel has survived many a deluge in 137 years, and her walls and floors and restoration pay tribute to this.
January 1887, saw the first of many floods pass through the hotel, covering the ground floor, Front Bar area and submerging the cellar completely. The devastating floods six years after in February 1893, saw swirling muddy waters invade the second story, and again, a fortnight later, the muddy waters returned, only this time a few inches lower. Four months later, major flooding again was to enter the hotel nearly submerging the ground floor. William Winterford after five years in the old single story hotel and 10 years in his Grand Lady of the River (as she was known by then), succumbed to the economic depression of the day, giving up his license, no doubt to retire to higher ground in 1897.
Major flooding occurred in January of 1974, known locally as the Australia Day weekend floods. Again muddy waters entered the hotel engulfing the cellar and the ground floor. Fourteen lives were lost and some 8,000 households were affected, many homes being totally destroyed. Estimated damage was approximately $200 million in 1974 values. In January 2011, it happened again. The Regatta Hotel was devastated by the flood event that kneecapped South East Queensland, killed 35 people and left a $1billion+ damage bill.
The Regatta Hotel hit the headlines in March, 1965 as one of the first sites of feminist insurgency, protesting against the law of the day denying women entry to the public bar area. On a Wednesday afternoon on March 31, two women, Merle Thornton (mother of Australian actress Sigrid Thornton) and Rosalie Bognor, entered the public bar of the Regatta Hotel and ordered two beers.
When they were refused their beers and asked to leave, they promptly chained themselves to the foot rail of the bar. The rest, as they say, is history!
The police were quickly called, as they were breaking the law of the day for being in a public bar. There were 40 or so men in the public bar at the time and several of these bought the two women beers, while their husbands handed out pamphlets highlighting the discrimination Queensland women faced in hotels. When the police arrived and discovered there were no keys to the padlock, bolt cutters had to be found. Merle and Rosalie attracted extensive television, radio and press coverage, but still the law preventing women the right to drink in a public bar let alone enter one was not changed for a few years. Women were however, allowed to drink on their own in the so called, Ladies Lounges of some hotels, where men could only enter if accompanied by a female. Tribute will be paid to Merle and Rosalie in the Front Bar of the Regatta, with a plaque standing proud where the girls chained themselves, and salute given with drinks named in their honour and more. Their actions changed history.
The Regatta – A Timeline:
1874 The first Regatta Hotel, a modest single story wooden affair, established by Lawrence Howard Healy.
1882 Hotel license transferred to William Winterford who remained licensee until 1897, rebuilt the existing Hotel (designed by architect Richard Gailey and constructed for 4,800 pounds).
1887 January flood covers the ground floor, Front bar area and submerges cellar.
1890 A second Flood hits the Regatta Hotel.
1893 Two floods in February: the first flood saw swirling muddy waters invade the second story and again a fortnight later, the waters returned only this time reaching just a few inches lower.
1893 Third flood for the year in the month of June; major flooding to enter the hotel nearly submerging the ground floor.
1897 Succumbing to the economic depression of the day, Licensee William Winterford relinquishes his license of The Regatta Hotel.
1915 The Great Fire of Toowong nearly guts the entire building.
1930s The ‘Head of the River’ races were held on the Milton and Toowong reaches of the Brisbane River. Rowing regattas on the river were still held in the 1950s.
1965 Wednesday afternoon March 31- two women Merle Thornton and Rosalie Bognor, entered the public bar of the Regatta Hotel and ordered two beers. When they were refused their
beers and asked to leave, they promptly chained themselves to the foot rail of the bar.
1974 January flood (known locally as the Australia Day weekend floods) where muddy waters enter the hotel engulfing the cellar and the ground floor.
1981 The Regatta receives its very first refurbishment.
1982 During the 1982 Commonwealth Games held in Brisbane, large crowds gathered at the Regatta Hotel to watch the marathon runners rush past. Australia’s Robert de Castella took the
lead near the rock wall by the Regatta Hotel to the cheering crowd.