Hotel dining: Sorry, boys, now it's mostly about the upmarket ladies lounge

Esther Han
In crowd: Liam O'Keeffe, seated, and Dan Mulligan, the former head chef of Pilu.
In crowd: Liam O'Keeffe, seated, and Dan Mulligan, the former head chef of Pilu. Photo: Steven Siewert

The last vestiges of the pub as a male preserve are being ripped out in a fresh wave of Sydney hotel renovations as owners chase women with ever classier food, drink and decor.

Liam O'Keeffe took The Welcome Hotel in Rozelle out of receivership in April and has since spent $800,000 making structural and electrical upgrades, as well as redesigning the "dark, claustrophobic, aggressively male" bar area into a female-friendly space.

''It was covered in very Irish, beer paraphernalia things. Old terrible tables, even worse chairs,'' the 30-year-old son of miner Michael O'Keeffe said. ''It wasn't a warm space for women so I softened it with better lighting, cleaned the walls, and the interior designer went for retro without being retro.''

He lured Dan Mulligan, the former head chef of upscale Pilu at Freshwater restaurant, who will dish up "Italian, with a hint of Sardinian" gourmet fare.

"The old menu had mashed potatoes, rissoles, cumberland sausages," Mr Mulligan said. "I'll be using the same ingredients as I did at Pilu. I want to get a [Good Food Guide] hat if possible."

The Royal in Leichhardt, The Oaks Hotel in Neutral Bay and Woolwich Pier Hotel are among a dozen watering holes which have had big-dollar refurbishments this year alone to capitalise on growing demands for quality food and top drops in elegant spaces.

"Hotel values underwent a significant correction leading to some astute buyers picking up excellent hotels at reasonable prices," the Australian Hotel Association's John Green said. "Many patrons are fastidious about what they want. They want new experiences, be it the food type, drinks or the dé´cor."

In March, the historic Ivanhoe Hotel in Manly revealed a new Hamptons-inspired interior with lush greenery, beachy furnishings and sandstone walls. It has 16 indoor and outdoor spaces.

"The old pub had dark timber panels throughout, heavy carpets, and there was not a lot of natural light," said owner Emma Peterson. "We wanted to offer a place accessible for all ages, from mothers' groups to 50th birthday to engagements.'' While kitchen staff still serves pub grub , they now make pizza bases, stocks, chutneys and mayonnaise on premises, in line with community desires for locally sourced, handmade food.