Private property developer Virtical is among the growing number of pub operators diversifying its offering, with the opening of late-night bar INNA Lounge situated on the second floor of the Republic Hotel in Sydney.

Representing the first stage of a multimillion-dollar renovation for the four-story Republic Hotel building, INNA Lounge offers an elevated bar experience and leans into nostalgia.  

The brand-new venue features an intimate lounge-style design with soft leather booths, low tables and modern Australian artwork, drawing on stylistic inspiration from the 1930s. An oversized marble bar is the focal point of the venue, home to a diverse range of 400 spirits, including 120 agave spirits, and more than 200 wines.

Nostalgia plays are particularly prevalent in the drinks offering at INNA Lounge, with a cocktail list that has been curated using household staples and iconic Australian ingredients – such as Milo and Arnott’s biscuits – with playful twists.

Highly influential in the decision to hark back to this particular era was James Russell, Virtical group beverage manager, who explains: “We’ve drawn inspiration from the vibrant art deco period of the 1930s and the products that emerged after World War I. These drinks reinvent familiar flavours from household staples.”

Inspired by the design of the venue and its geometric shapes, Russell looked to the period of the 1930s and the large-scale production methods taken on after World War when curating the cocktail list.

Rory Gallagher, Virtical’s group general manager, explains that this influenced everything from the flavours and ingredients seen on the cocktail menu, to the presentation of each drink, which focuses more on playful nostalgia than replicating the era exactly.

“The world has changed so much, and while in practice we are never going to do things the same way as back then, the cocktail list acts as a homage to what they did then, balanced with innovation.

“It also takes inspiration from brands that would have been successful back then, such as the likes of Campari.”

Highlights from the menu include the Biscuit Tin cocktail, a tropical and refreshing peach cobbler served with Arnott’s biscuits, and the Mayne Meal, which pays homage to Milo by blending it with the classic Espresso Martini.

At the helm of chef Derek Bell, INNA Lounge serves a selection of high-end bar snacks, such as sustainable caviar served with potato crips and crème fraiche, and Moreton Bay bug rolls accompanied by horseradish, garlic and sriracha.

Hotel renovations

Having purchased the Republic Hotel in August last year, Virtical has extensive plans for the future of the famed pub, which, since its opening in 1865 has evolved from a single-storey pub to a four-level landmark.

Starting with the ground-floor Republic Bar, Gallagher says the intention is to create permanence and continuity with a traditional pub feel, while level one will bring a new concept in keeping with the Republic banner.

“Level two, with INNA, we imagine being a really strong food and beverage concept, with the ability to host functions and events,” he added.

On the top floor of the building, Gallagher says the highly acclaimed Taylor’s Rooftop Bar is also subject to a refresh, and will round out the venue’s diverse offering.

“The Republic Hotel is an all-day venue, and even pushes through into the early hours of the morning. It can give you lunch, it can cater to a birthday party or large groups looking for entertainment, on Fridays and Saturdays it caters to a night out.

“In the hospitality game, if you don’t have a diversified model and offer your guests what they want, they will find somebody else that will.

“You need to understand what is available, why it’s available, and the methodology behind it. By doing that, it means you can cater to guests on a Tuesday who are looking for a schooner after work with a few pals, but on a Saturday, they might then come back with their partner for dinner.”

Speaking about the ongoing renovation, Gallagher explains that the group hopes to have level one complete by the end of this financial year, with further plans to rejuvenate the rooftop bar before the end of the calendar year.

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