A new two-tiered rooftop has led to six-week waiting lists at Public House Richmond, as well as the need to bring on a full-time staff member to handle book enquiries.

Jon De Fraga has owned Public House in Richmond since 2013. The last time the pub had a major renovation was with the previous owners in the early 2000s, so the venue was in need of some refreshing. While thinking about how to reinvigorate the pub, De Fraga also noticed a change in the local entertainment scene as the traditionally younger patrons that the group catered to had started to gravitate towards other areas for their hospitality and entertainment needs.

“Richmond kind of lost a little bit of trade to Flinders Lane for a while. It had been the cool spot to go to for a little bit, but other venues had been opening up around us and they were newer and a bit fresher so we lost a bit of the crowd. So we thought to try to recapture that crowd we’d have to rejig the venue.”

A different kind of rooftop

The shining star of the reinvented Public House is the new two-level rooftop and deck, with uninterrupted 360-degree views of Richmond Parklands, the Eastern suburbs, the MCG and the city skyline. The Rooftop Deck, the first of the two new outdoor floors, includes two separate bars to service patrons around the space.  The entire space is open-air, however a retractable roof and transparent retractable blinds mean that the entire deck can still be used in wet weather. Misters and heaters are also used to combat the elements.

“You can still get all the view but if the weather turns pretty nasty you can bring the blinds down, you’ve got heaters in there. It becomes fully self-contained.”

The highest floor, the Rooftop Garden, is the show-stopping component of the venue that has people returning to Public House in droves. The floor is built up in stepped levels like an amphitheatre, with several booths on each level – meaning no matter where you sit up there your view of the skyline is unimpeded. The area is shaded with umbrellas, but De Fraga already has plans to add more inclement weather protection to the area.

“We did initially think about having a flat rooftop but lots of people have those and we wanted to do something a little bit different.”

Build it and they will come

Since reopening in December, the venue has been booming – within COVID restrictions – and has recouped a lot of the patronage that it had lost over the years. The two new rooftop floors are a large part of the success of the venue, as Melburnians thirst for some open-air socialising.

“It’s been really popular. Obviously we still need to abide by the COVID restrictions we have in Melbourne, so we’re still on limited capacity, but we’ve basically been booked out every Friday and Saturday since we opened. We’re booked out six weeks in advance, and we’ve put minimum spends on some of those booths on the Friday and Saturday evenings, which is working pretty well. Hopefully that continues,” states De Fraga.

The venue is now so popular, the publican had to put on an extra full-time staff member just to keep up with booking enquiries, which average about 200 per day.

It’s a welcome change from the absolute lack of trade in 2020, and one that De Fraga took a gamble on by not tamping down on the renovation plans when pubs were shut down.

“We just pushed ahead [with the plans] and crossed our fingers, because you never quite knew what the opening date was going to be. We didn’t alter the design or the budget much, but things were very tight, let’s put it that way! We were running out of funds.”

It’s safe to say that by sticking to the plan, the gamble has well and truly paid off for Public House in Richmond.

This is an excerpt from an article published in the current issue of Australian Hotelier. You can read the full feature below.

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...