House-made dim sims, 'frog in a pond' dessert and an original horseshoe-shaped bar are some of the charms in store at the freshly renovated Mona Castle Hotel in Seddon, which is back open after its future was in doubt.
The suburb's only pub closed in September 2020 and rumours swirled about it being sold to renovations show The Block or developed into apartments. Instead, a group of five friends (including several partners from the Ascot Vale Hotel) bought the 148-year-old pub last year.
Working with HA Architecture, they've restored original features, such as timber panelling, while opening up a warren of rooms to create new dining spaces for 80 people. A palette of racing green, white and sand is offset by photos of sporting identities, including Merv Hughes and Shane Warne.
The Mona reopened in May and, most importantly to the new owners, the pub's regulars have returned.
"We were cautious during the build to not turn it into your real fine-dining kind of venue or take it away from your local pub," says partner Taylor Tatterson.
The TAB may be gone, but there's still sport and racing on TV, Carlton Draught on tap, happy hour Monday to Friday, and weekly meat raffles complemented by a veg box raffle in recognition of the area's changing demographics.
Families can sprawl in the Austin Room, which adjoins a beer garden that's also being spruced up, while others can make a date with the weekly steak night or Sunday roast. There's also a family-size pie for four people, with rotating fillings such as steak and mushroom, served with mash and peas.
Best-sellers on the menu include a seafood spaghetti, eggplant schnitzel and Hagen's sausages with mash. A frog in a pond, set in red jelly to match the pub's branding, is proving a hit with kids big and small.
"People were kind of poking their heads in and saw us hanging around the pub [and] they were all fairly excited for it to return," says co-owner Bradley Olsson.
Each month, proceeds from the weekly raffles are donated to a different charity, with Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Cancer Council among the first recipients.
Open Mon 4pm-late, Tues-Sun noon-late
45-53 Austin Street, Seddon, 03 9687 2101, monacastlehotel.com