Merivale buys The Alexandria Hotel

Justin Hemmes at the site of The Newport, which Merivale opened earlier this year.
Justin Hemmes at the site of The Newport, which Merivale opened earlier this year. Photo: Anna Kucera

Merivale has stepped in to take over The Alexandria Hotel in the inner-city suburb of Alexandria, which closed last year.

The company's CEO Justin Hemmes was so compelled by local support for the pub that he decided to buy it - even though he'd never been inside the venue before. 

"I made the offer site unseen," he says. "I just saw photos of it, I'd read the history of it and I was so excited about the story. It all happened very quickly."

In fact, it was only two weeks ago that Hemmes first came across The Alexandria Hotel. Within seven days, he had bought the pub. 

"I saw all the interest from the residents, all the action groups and the Save The Alex website," he says. "I think there were over a thousand written submissions to the council. That's unprecedented." 

"I thought this can not be redeveloped. This should be kept!" 

It's good news for local supporters who were opposed to original plans to demolish the iconic pub - which has a history dating back to the 1870s. The existing building was constructed in 1934 and is affectionately known as The Alex.

There was a grassroots community campaign to save the hotel after developers announced plans to turn the site into an apartment block. City of Sydney staff were involved in a move to get the pub heritage-listed. The venue was popular with Sydney Swans supporters and also hosted DJ sets by local label Future Classic, who discovered Flume when he was a 20-year-old unknown Sydney producer.

"It's a great piece of history and I felt it needed to be preserved and given back to the community," Hemmes says. He also wants locals to have input in Merivale's future plans for the venue.

Merivale hopes to retain the original 1930s bar area and will redesign the large courtyard under the creative direction of Hemmes and architect Kelvin Ho.

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The Alexandria will mark Merivale's second venue in the area; the company's transformation of the nearby Queen Victoria Hotel in Enmore is due to open in November as Queen Chow. The Chinese-inspired menu there will be overseen by chefs Patrick Friesen and Christopher Hogarth from Merivale's Papi Chulo and Eric Koh from Mr Wong.

And although Merivale has many projects in the works for the next 12 months (with Fred's and Charlie Parker's opening in Paddington in September, and updates on the middle level of the Coogee Pavilion and indoor areas of The Newport scheduled), Hemmes plans for The Alexandria Hotel to re-open quickly. 

"I get the keys mid-September and I think [within] six to eight weeks, we should have something," he says. "It's not going to be a big hotel redevelopment just now, I just want to get it back open and get people enjoying the space."

Hemmes wants to showcase the pub and outdoor area and is considering introducing food trucks and art installations. Many of the changes needed are cosmetic, because although the hotel currently has its interiors stripped out, "there's nothing wrong with it", he says. "The fixtures and fittings need to go back in – we've got to somehow find them or make them [laughs] and we'll just get it open."

So is Hemmes having any second thoughts about moving so swiftly on The Alexandria Hotel? 

"It was a quick knee-jerk reaction and I'm so glad I did it."