The Garden State Hotel is Sand Hill Road’s 10th venue (seven remain in their portfolio). Sand Hill Road is a pub specialist. For years they counted the inner Melbourne suburb of Richmond as their key stomping ground.
Despite the years of successful pub experience, Garden State Hotel was a leap of faith. Occupying a large site in Flinders Lane (one of the hottest hospitality strips in the world right now), and a long way from the ‘burbs, Sand Hill Road was taking all it had learnt on an educated punt that it’d transfer to the big smoke.
The build was certainly another step up for Sand Hill Road. With long-time construction collaborators (Vision Builders) ruling themselves out, Sand Hill Road selected Schiavello for the job, which was a painstaking 15 month process.
Over those 15 months, 420 truck loads of debris were taken out of the back roller door, and 645 builders and contractors signed into the site, with more working offsite.
With the heritage facade remaining intact, the entire innards of the old building was stealthily demolished and removed from the inside. “We did a complete demo of the building with the existing roof on,” said Sand Hill Road partner Doug Maskiell. “The roller door would come up, truck pulls in, roller door goes down, truck gets loaded up.” There was one moment of panic. Not long before opening the paper reported a couple of Banksy street art pieces in Duckboard Place had been lost to demolition. Horrified that it could have been them, a flurry of Sunday morning phone calls let the boys breathe a sigh of relief. It wasn’t them; all their demo had been done 18 months earlier.
“I was constantly in awe of Schiavello who had to wrangle it all,” said Matt Mullins. “There were 30-odd days of cranes between Flinders Lane and Duckboard Place.”
Garden State Hotel maintains a front bar as its solid foundation, but from there it combines a wide variety of venues, from a cocktail bar, to a restaurant, function space and private dining.
All the various spaces are wrapped around what is the jewel in the crown of the hotel, the massive beer garden.
The beer garden spans two levels, with terraced seating leading down to the basement level Rose Garden cocktail bar. Mature trees are the focal point of the garden — not astroturf — with raised brick garden beds full of lush plants lining the outskirts, and the overhead sawtooth glass roof lending a conservatory feel.
“We worked out pretty early on that Melburnians are a pretty resilient bunch,” said Sand Hill Road partner Tom Bird. “If they were warm and dry, then they’d be happy to be outside. It would be a real drawcard. I hesitate to say, but we wouldn’t open any venue without some sort of outdoor space or greenery.”
“Because it’s Melbourne, there’s a couple of things we do to keep people dry and warm,” explained Matt Mullins. “We end up covering large sections of the horizontal faces of our beer garden, but keep the vertical faces really open. You get a huge amount of ventilation, a lot of natural light and a lot of big clear views up to the sky and the buildings beyond. The other thing we do is put gas heaters bloody everywhere. We’ve got so many Bromic heaters in our beer garden. Everywhere you turn there’s a heater pumping warm air your way. We spent a lot of time with Bromic working out the most efficient way to set up our heaters.”
“Sand Hill Road is one of true innovators in Melbourne’s hospitality scene,” noted Bromic’s Matt. “Over the years, every pub refit has looked amazing and thanks to their long-time partnership with Techne Architecture, have pushed the boundaries of design. But they’re also huge sticklers for what makes a pub a pub, and a huge part of that is the beer garden – Sand Hill Road does a beer garden better than just about anyone. That said, the Garden State Hotel beer garden is something else again — it’s truly outstanding. It was a pleasure to work with Sand Hill Road and Schiavello to ensure the outdoor areas had the right heating solution. Garden State Hotel demonstrates what’s possible — in terms of comfort, design and year-round amenity — with proper planning and consultation.”
With their great gamble set in stone, the rest of the venue soon found itself tangled up in the Garden State theme. The entire public bar has a pergola like feel, with large wooden uprights bolted to a network of overhead joists and hanging boxes that hold both booze and greenery. Every space is linked to the garden in some way, whether it requires passage through it or occupies part of its view.
In all, there’s 2000sqm of floor area, catering for 840 patrons. And it’s smack dab in the centre of the Flinders Lane-centric cool food movement in Melbourne. Within 100m of Garden State Hotel are Supernormal, Coda, Cumulus, Chin Chin, Tonka, Pastuso, Lee Ho Fook, Mo Vida, Gazi — exceptional food and beverage. “We thought by putting a pub in the middle of that might tie the area together in a neat bow,” said Matt.
All four partners acknowledge it has been and will continue to be a massive learning curve for them and their business. But as Tom Bird put it in Pokemon Go parlance, “we’re levelling up. We know we’re much better operators now and Sand Hill Road is so much better off, not only for having this new site, but for having all this new expertise. People that genuinely love hospitality will have a flow on effect to the rest of our business.”
Sand Hill Road has gone all in on Garden State Hotel. All their finances are tied up in the multi-million dollar project. But as Matt Mullins puts it: “We’re risking everything, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Photos: Shannon McGrath