Wednesday , June 23 2021

The rebirth of the icon in Melbourne shows that some things are worth saving

When the Gatwick Hotel in St. Kilda was subjected to Channel 9 Block treatment, for example, 66 people with very low incomes were displaced to make room for luxuriously renovated apartments with a legacy of $ 2 million, that place was dead.

How do we maintain a sense of place in a rapidly changing city? How can we allow for consistency, a familiar path, a sense of belonging?

So many of our important places, the institutions in Melbourne, if you like – Vic market, Abla's restaurant, Club of waiters, Florentino, Tolarno, Hotel Esplanade, Totte, Angle, ICG, Victoria Park list – are fragile. They may or may not be protected by inheritance, but their use defines and uses changes.

More things are changing ...

More things are changing …Credit:Matt Golding

The trick is to manage the changes, although the serandype has a role as well. As one place dies, another is born, or is reborn. Hotel Esplanade, around the corner of Gatwick, opens the door on Friday. It's 30 years since Espy was saved from the bag for the first time, and nearly 20 years since the second series was rejected. Some people laughed at that time, saying that you can not save the old pub in the aspid; can not stop with change.

We did not want to stop all the changes, of course, just the wrong kind. We sincerely hoped that Espri would be developed; that it will continue to give young musicians the opportunity to perform to the new audience, as it was for the previous century. We do not insist on Phil's play to play forever (although he's almost there) or Ruby Carter always makes jazz on Tuesday.

We wanted to protect the use of the hotel as a community meeting place, a public loungeroom in St. Kilda, when so many apartments were so small that they were available for anyone who wanted to enter.


Outside the building's heritage list, an essential planning intervention was to protect the stock loading capacities. This meant that Espri could always work as a place to live with an opportunity for evolution, and if music died, well, it would be an economic decision in response to the market, not because it became structurally impossible.

Terrified developers say these actions were a kiss of death; that by doing so managing the evolution of the hotel, there was no benefit ever to generate enough income to maintain the entire building. They had a point: everyone is worried about the two top floors that were closed until the 1980s.

We were hoping for a white knight. Vince and Paul, who took over the pub in 2003, did a great job keeping him together, but could not progress. They suddenly closed the doors in 2015.

Then the road Sand Hill appeared. After being detained for another 18 months and working on an apparently massive renovation, everyone was worried. But what they did is wonderful. Old Espy is beautiful. The layers were peeled back, they were added and muscled with kind attention to historical details.

The central staircase leads to the new territory of Espri.

The central staircase leads to the new territory of Espri.Credit:Joe Armamo

The front tape is almost unrecognizable; room in Gershwin had only the lightest touch. The loading bay is now the reincarnation of the old Espy Kitchen, while musicians directly fit into the high-tech sound in the house.

Walls of wrought iron remain. There are three stages, small bars and places to eat everywhere, and the place continues and continues, from behind and back. All four levels were remarkably resuscitated.


The renovated extended Espy has a different feeling; this is what saves it. Now it's more than a destination than a local pub, and old-timers may not like me much. In fact, most of the elderly have already left St. Kilda, and those who remain drunk at the corner of the Prince, or Balaclava in Carlisle Street. If they decide to try it, there is a reasonably cheap beer and the feeling that diversity is prompted, that no one will be rejected to look in order.

At the opening of the night Brothers Teskey play – a local young soul and blues band just hitting a great time. It is an inspired choice: their music takes the elements of the feel of Espy over 60, definitely written and played for today's whistles. The Support Act, Emily South, is a local indie rock artist on her way.

Now I live on the other side of the river, but knowing that Esppi is there, that it has evolved with love and care over many decades, gives me a sense of consistency and, indeed, little luck in my heart.

Dr Kate Shaw lived in St. Kilda in the 1980s and 1990s.

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