Pubs of old are being transformed into some of Australia's best dining experiences

The days are looking numbered for pubs of old, with their swirly patterned carpets, generic draught beer and 'house red or white'.

A new breed of hoteliers with impressive pedigrees are applying hospitality expertise to the humble Aussie pub, and the public are voting with their feet.

So far in 2016, Maurice Terzini of Icebergs in Sydney's Bondi has turned his hand to the Dolphin Hotel in Surry Hills, while Guillaume Brahimi, of the revered Guillaume restaurants, took up residence at the Four In Hand in Paddington, previously helmed by another renowned chef, Colin Fassnidge.

In Melbourne, George Calombaris in June opened Hellenic Hotel, an extension of his Greek tavern concept, to a corner pub in Williamstown. And the team behind top wine bar Harry & Frankie in Port Melbourne, took the reigns at the Rose Hotel in Fitzroy.

As well as running Guillaume at Four In Hand, Brahimi is culinary ambassador for all six pubs owned by the same group, Public House Management.

Lift your game

He says pubs can no longer afford to lag behind restaurants and small bars in meeting the food and beverage expectations of today's consumers.

"I always have an issue when you go to a pub and you want a nice glass of wine, it's always a big challenge: House red, house white and a very average sparkling wine - you know, undrinkable!" Brahimi says.

He says that for too long, making a decent cocktail has also been a bridge too far for many pubs, but it shouldn't be.

"Being able to have a great negroni or a great martini - there is no reason why you can't have that in a pub," he says.


All of the wines on the list at Guillaume at Four In Hand are available for sale at the public bar next door.

"I enjoy having a beer at the pub, but if you want to attract ladies and you want to attract couples, you need to have a good wine list, because Australians love their wine," Brahimi says.

"They would love to have a glass of Chablis in a pub with a charcuterie plate."

Now with added panache

Nick Gregorski is owner of Brisbane gastropub Alliance Hotel, which serves elegant dishes in its dining room such as a Fraser Island spanner crab and chicken crackling 'sandwich'.

He says pub classics such as schnitzel are not out by any stretch, but today's consumers expect them to be done with a bit of panache.

"I think that, with the rise of cooking shows on TV, everyone is an expert on food and wine. They know good and bad - their palates are more discerning," he says.

"People still want the good-style pub food and I think we're doing it with a step up. We've got a crumbed veal cutlet, which is a big thick piece of veal with a hot mustard 'slaw and roast pig fat potatoes."

Pub interior design has also had a dramatic overhaul. Terzini's Dolphin incorporates artistic elements that are anything but traditional, while the refurbishment of Fitzroy's new-look Rose sought to emphasise its heritage features.

Separate cocktail and wine bars are becoming increasingly common, too. Times clearly have changed, since NSW publicans fought tooth and nail against the introduction of new liquor licences enabling Melbourne's small bar culture to spread to Sydney.

"Melbourne is Melbourne. Sydney has a different outlook," Australian Hotels Association NSW president John Thorpe famously said in 2007.

"We aren't barbarians, but we don't want to sit in a hole and drink chardonnay and read a book.

"People can sit down, talk about history, chew the fat and gaze into each other's eyes and all this sort of baloney but it's pie in the sky stuff. That's not what Sydney wants."

Pubs clearly couldn't stop the small bar revolution, so it appears they've joined it.

Check out 10 pubs in the gallery above that have lifted the bar with killer menus, great drink lists and edgy renovations.