Looking to societal trends, the resurgence of nostalgia has emerged as a prominent theme in recent years, and its prevalence in the pub market speaks to a broader cultural phenomenon.

Popping up in every facet of pubs, from classic décor to retro-inspired dishes and drinks offering a taste of bygone eras, the phenomenon is weaving its way into modern hospitality. Perhaps it is the comforting familiarity of evoked memories, or the timeless magic of comfort foods, but the trend is captivating patrons across generations.

While a retro resurgence is happening here and now, Chris Loukakis, head of strategy at creative agency Example, believes the trend is driven by some interesting forces dating back many years.

“There was a big series of renovations that happened in pubs around the turn of the millennium, effectively driven by globalisation. We got access to cheaper materials, cheaper products and new building methodologies, so renovations became easier, and for publicans who couldn’t afford to renovate all that frequently it suddenly became accessible.”

At this time, a few key renovation styles set a trend for the pub market, and Loukakis believes this resulted in a generic style of pub fit-out.

“Pubs lost their distinction and differentiation,” he added. “Everything ended up the same, and I think that this interest in nostalgia is a rejection of that, a rebellion to it. People are saying, ‘what did we have before everything looked and tasted the same?’

“And it’s not just in pubs, it’s a broader trend across all markets. People are looking back to a period before everything was whitewashed and grey, they’re looking for a more interesting past.”

Reviving the past

Loukakis notes several pubs that have successfully tapped into their own history, such as The Beach Hotel in Mereweather and attached fish and chippery Larrie’s, which encapsulate the town’s surf culture of the 70s and 80s.

The Bob Hawke Beer & Leisure Centre by Hawke’s Brewing Co is another of the venues that Loukakis praises for its unique approach to nostalgia. Situated in the Sydney suburb of Marrickville, the neighbourhood pub pays homage to the halcyon days of 1980s Australia.

Hawkes Brewing Co co-founder Nathan Lennon says the venue was designed to create a deeper, immersive brand experience, unpacking the nostalgic elements of the brand through its hospitality offering.

“Ultimately, it’s about authentic storytelling that’s not just tied in with Bob Hawke, but a unique, culturally significant moment in time, where we give guests the chance to spend their leisure-time the way they did through the 1980s,” he says.

The venue is quintessentially 80s in both its aesthetic and menu, and Lennon saw every piece of the fit-out as an opportunity to tell a story, from the choice of texture to the more intricate elements that provoke real memories.

He says the most literal expression of the period is in the Pool Room, which doubles as a museum of Bob Hawke and tells the Australian story through memorabilia.

“He was an everyman Aussie, who enjoyed everyman Aussie pastimes – sports, BBQs, sunbaking, sinking beers at the pub. These are the very things that endeared him to Australians and allowed for a genuine connection to happen,” he says.

Although older generations connect most deeply with the venue, Lennon says the aesthetic appeals to a broad demographic and attracted 100,000 unique visitors in its first year.

“We wanted the Beer & Leisure Centre to feel welcoming and inclusive, regardless of age, gender, tastes and interests. A place where guests feel safe, have fun and have their curiosities piqued.

“This is certainly the case with the younger crowd – they might not have been around in the 80s but they appreciate the authenticity in design and experience,” he added.

Warren Livingstone, owner of Highclere Hospitality, tells a similar tale about the Australian Hotel McGraths Hill, which also journeys back to 80s Australiana.

“When I walked into the pub before I purchased it, I thought I was in a time warp. It was an old red brick interior with plastic seats like you’d find in a country hospital waiting room. I was struck by how 80s it all felt, and the interiors kind of went from there.”

Not merely replicating the past, Livingstone’s pub reimagines the era with contemporary contexts, which can be seen in the fusion of modern elements and older relics.

“We wanted to replace the old office-style ceiling with some nice timber panels. I eventually found a guy out that way that made coffins and we discussed creating these timber wood panels that were good for acoustics as well as aesthetically attractive,” says Livingstone.

“I am an avid collector of original Australian pub mirrors and paintings, and although many of these paintings pre-dated the 1980s, I still introduced them to breathe some authenticity into the venue.”

This is an extract from a feature published in the April issue of Australian Hotelier. You can continue reading it below.

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