St Kilda’s beloved Hotel Esplanade will reopen in November when hospitality group Sand Hill Road unveils its landmark development of the seaside icon. Restored to its former grandeur and glory, The Espy will be home to a dynamic range of lifestyle experiences and offer a new dining, drinking and cultural destination to Melbourne.
While 140 years of history buoys The Espy, Sand Hill Road has not only looked to the venue’s proud past but to its future for inspiration. Director Andy Mullins fondly recalls what the previous owners told them the day the sale went through. “They said that we might have bought The Espy, but we’d never really own it. It belongs to the people of Melbourne. We have always loved the pub, but we know that it holds a special place in many different hearts for many different reasons. There’s no other pub like it in Australia.”
The team has spent the past 12 months delving into the venue’s fascinating history and meeting the residents, artists, bookers, comedians, managers, family and friends who have great memories of big nights in the Gershwin Room and the main bar to help shape The Espy’s exciting new chapter. Sand Hill Road has gathered an army of talent to bring the vision to life and is currently recruiting 300 people to join The Espy family.
One of the most noticeable changes will be the scope of the venue, with parts of the building people never knew existed opening up. Visitors who remember it as two levels will now be able to journey from the basement stage and iconic public bar to the expansive main bar, a garden terrace overlooking St Kilda Pier, the Gershwin Room, a fast-paced casual dining kitchen, the Mya Tiger Cantonese restaurant with accompanying cocktail bar, and The Ghost of Alfred Felton cocktail bar on the top floor.
The latter is an homage to The Espy’s most notable resident, Alfred Felton, a wealthy chemist and art-lover who lived and died at the seaside hotel. “We started delving into the history of Alfred and discovered what an incredible man he was,” Andy says. “We want to create something he would be proud of and to keep his story alive throughout the venue.”
When Felton died, his bequest was left to various Victorian charities to support victims of domestic violence and The National Gallery of Victoria, which meant the gallery’s acquisition funds suddenly exceeded those of London’s National and Tate galleries combined. It has since purchased more than $2billion worth of art.
Sand Hill Road’s vision is ultimately to create a pub where all Melburnians feel at home. “We’re not trying to please one market — that’s not The Espy,” Andy says. “We’re going all out to create a world-class cocktail bar, and then only 27 stairs away have 800 people looking out to the ocean, drinking beers and smashing pizzas or heading into a gig at one of the stages inside. Different types of people, there for different reasons, day and night. That’s always been The Espy — a melting pot of Melbourne.”