The Clare Hotel on Broadway is closing this year. It will open again, but not as the comfortably crumpled venue of recent times. The Clare’s past and likely future are reflective of the fortunes of Sydney pubs.
The Clare like all Sydney pubs built during the twentieth century was shaped by restrictive licensing laws. During the 1920s thanks to the temperance movement pubs lost the small bars and parlours where all sorts of things could be said and done more or less in private.
Sydney pubs assumed their generic format with a large public bar designed for stand-up drinking, a saloon bar and a lounge or parlour for the ladies. The major social distinctions of class and gender were maintained and all was on view to the management. Since then the architecture has survived but the reasons for it are long forgotten and turned to all sorts of new purposes.
Until the 1970s the Clare had no ‘ladies’ for drinkers in the public and saloon bars on the ground floor. The women’s toilet was on the first floor near the lounge. It’s instructive that only thirty or so years ago the bars of a city pub were still totally men-only. Meanwhile the women drinking in the lounge were doubly discriminated against, as drinks there were more expensive. Certainly no one thought that women’s bar facilities were necessary back in 1940 when the pub was built.
I know this because we have some architectural drawings of the Clare in the collection, including drawings of alterations made in 1980 when the saloon bar toilet was converted for women patrons. A few years earlier a food bar (and a tiny ‘ladies’) had been installed off the public bar. Obviously the Clare’s clientele and its expectations were changing.
The drawings are part of a collection donated in 1998 by Sidney Warden, very close to the final design although it includes a corner feature with flagpoles which was not built. (During the design phase the pub was still being called Ryan’s, the name of the predecessor pub on the site.)
The original island bar in the public bar was removed during the 1970s – you can see where it was from the oval design in the ceiling. The saloon bar was and is intact, if occupied by many more poker machines than drinkers. Most of the Clare drawings in our collection relate to early 1980s plans to turn the first and second floors into a visitor and training centre for the brewery (which owned the Clare), including a lecture room, a new bar, a dining area etc.
None of this ever happened. Instead in 1985 Tooth’s Kent Brewery (but not the Clare) was sold to Carlton and United Breweries, a Victorian company which thought it could convince Sydneysiders to drink Fosters. Not surprisingly the brewery closed in 2005. Fosters Lager is one of the few internationally successful Australian brand names, widely believed to be typical of what Australians drink. In fact despite the best efforts of CUB Fosters’ Australian market share is tiny.
By 2005 the Clare‘s brewery worker clientele had already been joined by UTS students from across the way. A selection of well-used lounges was added to complement the original tiles (which had been concealed by wood veneer) and the handsome fibrous plaster ceilings. As the Herald declared: ‘It’s a worker’s pub turned kitsch lounge room and Sydney’s groovers are embracing the flashback’. It wasn’t all groovers: a few Powerhouse types have also been known to visit.
However we know that the Clare will close during 2013 and reopen during 2014 as part of a boutique residential hotel which also includes its neighbour the former Kent Brewery administration building. The developers promise that ‘Heritage features such as timber panelled boardrooms and historic CUB entertaining areas will be retained, with contemporary additions, creating a vibrant and comfortable urban hotel. The unique industrial qualities of the Carlton and United Brewery’s heyday will be evidenced throughout the hotel’.
You can see here how the new venue is supposed to look. An extra floor is being added to the Clare; I presume this is where the promised roof-top pool and bar will be located. The architects are Tonkin Zulhaika Greer so the project is in good hands I guess.
In some respects the Clare renovation encapsulates one of the perennial ironies of heritage preservation. Restoring a building to a marketable and usable function is the best way to preserve it; nothing is more at risk than an unused building. So a building is restored and preserved but its former clientele is often priced out; in future the Clare may be for special occasions only.
Another product of heritage consciousness is the new building next door to the Clare on the corner of Broadway and Kensington Lane. At the insistence of the City Council’s planners, this new seven-storey apartment block respectfully matches the curved brickwork and detailing of the Clare. According to Council ‘the design responds to the immediate character by providing a curved building facade to mirror the adjacent County Clare Inn…The materials, finishes and detailing of the proposed building are derived from the existing architectural language of the precinct…’
I’m not sure that context-driven faux heritage is the best response to a historic precinct like this, especially when the new building towers over its neighbouring architectural inspiration. Nonetheless Council’s intentions are certainly laudable as is it’s heritage listing of the Clare. A similar rush of mixed feelings is inspired by promo images for the Clare/Kensington Lane redevelopment. I wish they’d left the Vespa out.
As befits a conscientious architecture curator I might have to organise some ‘farewell’ drinks soon.
Charles Pickett, curator