The Metropole Hotel in Townsville has undergone extensive renovations, reopening in February this year with a modernised look which encapsulates the history of the hotel in a contemporary format.

Now under the operation of hotel developer and operator Kpat Hotels & Pubs, the refurbishment of the historic pub brings a new a sense of character to the existing architecture and heritage elements, providing a point of difference for Townsville.

The result of a longstanding relationship with former owners Minor Hotels Group, Kpat Hotels & Pubs acquired both the pub and the Oaks accommodation hotel it sits beneath in an off-market transaction in May 2023.

The Metropole Hotel is a welcome addition to the group’s portfolio, which includes 400 hotel rooms either in operation or construction between Toowoomba, Townsville and the Sunshine Coast, and a second existing pub, The Rock, in Toowoomba, with more on the way in Mooloolaba.

After a five-year hiatus in which the Metropole Hotel sat dormant, the group felt it was time to overhaul the space with a reinvigorated offering. Managing director Kenneth Wagner told Australian Hotelier that the purchase was made on an opportunistic basis.

“We were certainly attracted in both a pub and accommodation perspective to the Townsville region, based on the amount of infrastructure work, and generally the economics in that region. The environment is really flying,” he said.

Paying homage

Being the closest pub to the wharf on the banks of Ross Creek, the Metropole Hotel is steeped in maritime history. Originally built in 1887, the pub was otherwise known as ‘the first and last’, being the first pub to serve wharfies and the military as they arrived in Townsville, and the last as they returned to their boats.

Honoring the heritage of the building and its place in the community, the latest reincarnation is a destination in its own right.

“The façade is heritage listed, so we had to restore the façade in a format that reflected its original architecture, and the timber balustrades on the staircases, which are heritage listed, have not been touched since 1887.

“Being that it is a bit removed up that end of Palmer Street, we knew that to get it to work we’d have to make it a destination. The brief really was to bring it back to its origins, a contemporary version of its heritage format, and deliver something that the community can get engaged in and drives people up to that end of Palmer Street,” said Wagner.

While the redesign of the venue pays homage to its roots as a worker’s pub, this element is also reflected in the style of service, and the pub continues to attract this crowd.

“It’s for all demographics, but it’s a real workers pub, we’re seeing a lot of workers and wharfies at the moment. But we also pick up the families on Sundays, we host 21st and 30th birthdays upstairs on Saturday nights, it does have a fairly broad demographic,” added Wagner.

“More than anything it’s about the way we treat our customers. Even though it’s a really nice fit out, it’s not an exclusive environment and we’re happy to have anyone along.”

Being a historic asset in Townsville, the renovation has also attracted many older members of the community who have enjoyed reminiscing about the history of the hotel.

Inside the design

Though unassuming from the side of the street, the doors of the Metropole Hotel open to a striking appearance and patrons are greeted with a mixture of patterns, colours and textures that work in harmony together.

The refurbished space comprises a bar, bistro and gaming room downstairs, and two contemporary function rooms upstairs. Design was overseen by Taryn Raso from Cayas + Ward and blends contemporary fixtures with the traditional elements of the hotel.

Wagner said: “The gaming room when we got there was a real 2005 reno, quite a dingy little back corner set up. We’ve restored and extended it into quite a grand format, so it’s a really premium gaming offering, and the bar has been relocated.”

Moving away from the club-style bars that were also popular round 2005, the bar has been reinstated in a clean-cut, straight format to create more space in the bistro and dining area, along with the addition of a 120-seat outdoor space.

The main challenge with the Metropole Hotel was working with the heritage features, but still making the venue feel modern. Expanding on the direction of the interiors, Raso explains that the goal was to maintain a classic, timeless feel. 

“Because of the look of the building, the heritage and colonial aspects, we landed on a design that was inspired by the French Quarter-style, the colonial plantation style,” she said.

“We wanted to keep the interiors fairly light and warm with natural textures, such as the feature tiles and the diamond patterned look with neutral tones. We incorporated greens, and a lot of timber on the bar front, stone tops, and French-wash painted walls with classic dado detail throughout and the highest detailed skirtings.”

Working with the existing structure, which had a void in the middle of the ground floor space, intricate coffers were integrated with LED lighting as a prominent feature.

While the operational side of the pub hones in on its reputation as a worker’s pub, this was also a consideration in the design of the venue.

“The idea for the external space was to keep it simple and approachable, to make it a laidback space for anyone to come and have a drink outside, and that flowed through to the space downstairs too,” says Raso.

“We kept it multifunctional with different types of seating, dry bars and big screen TVs, and to the side of that, we have the lounge-banquet style seating. There are different zones that cater to everyone, and going upstairs we made the colour palate a little bit darker for functions and conferences.”

A grand performance

After a successful soft launch in February, the Metropole Hotel invited local community members to enjoy a live performance from Shannon Noll on Saturday 16 March to celebrate the reopening of the community venue.

“It was a free concert for Townsvillians which went down really well. It was an effort to sell ourselves and show that we’re here to participate in the community and create a destination up that end of Palmer Street,” said Wagner.

This piece was first published in the May issue of Australian Hotelier, which you can view below.

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