Australian Venue Co. (AVC) has acquired the leasehold of the Prince of Wales Hotel in St Kilda.

Australian Venue Co. (AVC) has acquired the leasehold of the renowned Prince of Wales Hotel in St Kilda. AVC acquired the leasehold of Gerry and Andy Ryan, who have stewarded the venue for the last 13 years.

“We have enormous respect for what the Ryan family and team have created with The Prince,” stated AVC CEO Paul Waterson.

“The pub holds a special place in the heart of many Melburnians and has been a mainstay within the St Kilda hospitality scene for decades.  We look forward to honouring this rich heritage as we continue to deliver a memorable experience for loyal locals and new customers to The Prince.”

“The Prince is well established within the St Kilda community and the diverse mix of offerings create a unique point of difference locally.”

The freehold of the venue is currently retained by Jackalope Group, which purchased the property in 2015 by the Van Haandel family for $45m.

A storied legacy

The Prince Hotel was first established in the late 1800s as a guest house, before undergoing a significant Art Deco rebuild in 1936, opening the following year as a grand hotel. During World War II, the Prince Hotel became the headquarters for the American military in Victoria. In the 1970s, The Prince became a centre of patronage for Melbourne’s queer community, and also created the Prince Bandroom on the first floor, making it a renowned live music venue.

In 1996, the venue’s freehold was sold to John and Frank Van Haandel, who undertook another significant renovation of the venue, including a return to much of the original Art Deco façade.

In 2011, the Ryan family took on the leasehold, and added fine dining restaurant Circa to the mix, where the likes of Andrew McConnell, Ben Shewry and Phillippa Sibley all launched their careers. In 2018, Circa was closed, and since then, the hotel has returned to its more casual roots, with Prince Dining Room.

Speaking with Australian Hotelier, Waterson spoke about taking on that legacy, and what the next chapter for the Prince Hotel will look like.

“We really want to enhance the live music offering because it’s a legacy going back decades. I can remember going in seeing great bands there in the early 90s as a younger fella, and to imagine one day that you could be involved in the operation of the venue is just inconceivable, because it’s just such an exciting location. And to bring that emphasis back on live music will be really critical.”

The CEO also suggested that the creation of an outdoor deck facing the front of the venue is also a top priority. The Prince offer had included a day spa up until last year, and AVC intends to convert that area into an outdoor deck fairly quickly. Otherwise, the group is looking to build to on the legacy of the Ryan family’s vision.

“The venue had such an expansive renovation just immediately prior to COVID, but it never really got the opportunity to hit it straps post that renovation. And that’s probably what excites me most, as the Ryan family just did an extraordinary job bringing it to the level and standard it is today. So it’s about being able to execute on their vision for the venue.”

Another Albury acquisition

Just across the border, AVC has also acquired The Bended Elbow Hotel in Albury. The pub joins two other venues within the group portfolio in the town – Beer Deluxe Albury and Albion Hotel. It also joins a cluster of several venues on either side of the border within 30 minutes drive, including Hotham Hotel in Mount Hotham, Victoria.

“I think we’ve always had a really strong history in the border town and that part of Australia,” stated Waterson.

“Where we can create a cluster in a geographical location that we know really well and know other customers it makes sense to expand within that location, and we’ve got a very strong local management team.”

Waterson said The Bended Elbow was a more dining-led venue than the Albion Hotel and Beer Deluxe, which made it a great fit for the portfolio. The previous owner of The Bended Elbow will stay on for at least the next 12 months to guide the venue.

AVC settled on The Bended Elbow in May.

Vanessa Cavasinni

Vanessa Cavasinni is the managing editor of Australian Hotelier and Club Management, trade publications for the pub and club sectors respectively. Vanessa has been at the helm of Australian Hotelier since...

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