Revamping Prince of Wales' legendary but grungy public bar was always going to be a challenge.
"When you're changing something quite dramatically, you know you're going to be critiqued," says managing director Andrew Ryan.
But since reopening the St Kilda bar on January 20, it's pulled in both former regulars and locals. "It's more of a melting pot than it used to be, but it feels good."
The team has taken pains to return the bar to its original 1937 appearance. "You think of the Prince as a rough pub but originally it was a beautiful art deco bar."
Architect Iva Foschia of IF Architecture has overseen the restoration, which has exposed the ornate plaster ceiling, hidden for years under layers of soundproofing, and a previously undiscovered stairwell connecting the pub to the hotel lobby. An oval island bar evokes the original, the sticky carpet has gone and the space is now flooded with natural light and decked out in pine furniture.
Once one of the city's premier live music venues, the Prince's emphasis now is on food and drink. Head chef Dan Cooper's menu features counter-meal classics such as burgers, fish and chips and chicken schnitzel, plus more upmarket bar snacks like smoked ham and gruyere croquettes, duck liver parfait and homemade sausage rolls. There's also a breakfast menu with acai bowls, turmeric-scented porridge and fried duck and maple waffles.
To drink, there's Carlton Draught on tap alongside craft options from Stomping Ground and Brick Lane, and cocktails and wine.
At the end of February, the last piece of the Prince puzzle will open – wine bar and bottle shop Little Prince Wine – marking the end of the five-year refurbishment of the Prince of Wales complex.
Prince Public Bar is open daily from 7am to late at 29 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, theprince.com.au/prince-public-bar