New life for majestic Albert Street pub
Six years on from when it was closed by a drugs bust, the Hotel Railway reopens today
Friday, March 11, 2022
MARK it down as a rare win over the property developers.
When the lights went out on the landmark Railway Hotel in Albert Street half a dozen years ago, there were genuine fears the building would fall into the hands of yet another high-rise apartment developer.
Located on the eastern side of the Anstey railway line, with a supermarket car park and another apartment building across the road, the 132-year-old pub seemed a likely target for redevelopment in the style of the Sarah Sands or East Brunswick hotels.
But Richie Ludbrook, co-owner of several popular drinking venues around Melbourne including the Riverland Bar underneath Federation Square, had other ideas.
With co-investors including TV and radio funny man Mick Molloy and the Northcote Social Club, he could see the historic pub’s potential – and today the doors will reopen to a fully refurbished Hotel Railway.
A multi-million dollar makeover has resulted in a 965 person venue with a 3am licence that Mr Ludbrook hopes will in time become a hub for the Brunswick community.
“Just like Brunswick, we want The Railway to be a true gem of the north and reflect the suburb’s friendly, vibrant and creative vibe,” Mr Ludbrook said in a statement provided to Brunswick Voice*.
“It’s about being more than just a pub; it’ll be a place for people to drop in and meet at all times of the day. We want Hotel Railway to be a new Brunswick local.”
One of half a dozen large hotels built in Brunswick in the 1880s and 1890s to cater for travellers to and from regional Victoria and New South Wales, the Railway Hotel has always had good bones. But after a chequered recent history which included numerous drug busts, it had been seriously neglected before the Riverland team began the renovations in earnest late last year.
Over the 132 years since it first opened, the building has operated as not only a pub, but as a hostel, television studio, bookmakers’ office, and even a morgue.
Last operating as an electronic dance venue, it was closed in 2016 when licensee Chris Lytras was arrested in an undercover police operation and charged with trafficking in cocaine and ice.
Lytras is still in jail serving out a 9 ½ year sentence for drug trafficking.
But Mr Ludbrook and his partners remained true to their vision, bringing on board architects and interior designers Therefore Studios, whose resume includes The Corner hotel in Richmond and the Marquis of Lorne in Fitzroy.
The renovation of the hotel has been a challenge because the building had been occupied by squatters, vandalised and fallen into a general state of disrepair over the six years it was closed.
The design retains the building’s original features and the façade has been left untouched.
The owners bought a rundown house next door which has been demolished to make way for a large beer garden, while a smaller outdoor terrace area looks onto the Upfield bike and pedestrian path. There will be a dozen beers on tap and food options include a restaurant which draws on Brunswick’s eclectic southern European and Middle Eastern cuisine.
The hotel has a 3am licence with both live acoustic music and DJs providing entertainment.
The new owners haven’t made a start on the upper storeys yet but intend to eventually use them as function spaces and offices.
* Brunswick Voice made repeated requests to interview Richie Ludbrook to Riverland’s public relations consultants prior to the Hotel Riverland’s reopening.