The Melbourne music institution has made its long-awaited return with an incredible refurb featuring 12 bars, two restaurants and three live music stages across its six levels.
After three and a half years behind locked doors and barred windows, the Hotel Esplanade – better known by Melburnians as just The Espy – made a triumphant return at the tail-end of 2018. A mighty revamp has added two levels, brought in an innovative art program and restored the pub's live stages, continuing its life as the longest-running music venue in Australia. If you're a Paul Kelly fan, you might know that he recorded much of his 1996 album Live at the Continental and the Esplanade here.
Stroll straight from St Kilda Beach, through the Espy's majestic Victorian foyer — the pub was built in 1878 — and into The Espy Kitchen to feast on pub grub and share plates, created by Executive Chef Ash Hicks.
In league with local design studio Techne and stylist Eleisha Gray, publicans Sand Hill Road have revived The Espy's Victorian and art deco splendour, but added necessary contemporary touches, including19th century furnishings and materials, including shelving, light fittings, bars and paintings sources from Europe. The ground floor is home to The Espy Kitchen, a bustling, 450-seater space dedicated to casual eats and drinks. Its centrepiece is a massive, contemporary, industrial open kitchen.
Follow the grand staircase upwards to find Mya Tiger, a Cantonese Restaurant that overlooks Port Melbourne. Beyond lies The Ghost of Alfred Felton, a lush cocktail bar, and a series of rooms devoted to Felton, an entrepreneur and art collector who lived in The Espy from 1892–1904, and died in his bed, bequeathing more than a billion dollars to the National Gallery of Victoria.
But the biggest question hanging over the relaunch of The Espy was whether the new publicans would pay the same respect to local live music as the old venue did in its heyday. Thankfully, the programming shows that live music not just an afterthought.
There are three stages at The Espy. The first is The Basement, a free entry room. The second is The Gershwin Room, a ticketed venue. The third is a small stage in the round on the ground floor. Meanwhile, artistic director is visionary Janine Willis, former chair of the Next Wave Festival and independent artist. She's programming a multi-faceted program, with everything from dance classes to major arts festivals.
Images: Alex Drewniak.