Time at the bar

3 June 2021 | Posted In: #139 Winter 2021,

With the Green Park sold and the Hollywood on the market, Christopher Kelly laments the closure of two of Sydney’s iconic hotels.

When I heard the news that the Hotel Hollywood was up for sale I could’ve cried into my beer. The sale of the Hollywood — as it’s affectionately known to locals — follows the death in 2019 of owner Doris Goddard. A one-time Hollywood actress, Doris left Tinseltown in the late 1970s and built up a portfolio of inner-city pubs, including the West End Hotel in Balmain and the Marlborough in Newtown. She purchased the Hollywood in 1977 for $178,000.

Working in an office directly next door for a number of years, I considered the Hollywood to be something of a second home. Many an evening I’d be supping schooners and sharing yarns with half-cut colleagues. More often than not, you’d find a kaftan-clad Doris propped up on her stool at the bar, a customary red wine in hand. When it was time for Doris (then in her late 70s) to retire for the evening, we’d shout out a cheery goodnight. Doris would respond with a smile and a regal wave before tottering upstairs. Despite its name — and aside from a disco ball — the Hollywood wasn’t glitzy or glam. Like its late owner, it had seen better days and had remained “historically intact” for 80 years. But that was its charm. Scuzzy chic we called it.

Now in the hands of HTL Property, the Hollywood is being marketed as “a very rare city fringe hotel exhibiting all key fundamentals astute purchasers are seeking”. The four-storey, art-deco-fronted venue that straddles Foster and Hunt streets in Surry Hills comes complete with a late licence and pokie machines. There’s also a first-floor residence, with nine accommodation rooms up above. While no price tag has yet been revealed, similar properties have gone under the hammer for up to $10 million.

With its “mixed-use repositioning possibilities”, what the Hollywood will become once it’s sold is anyone’s guess. If it remains a pub, it will no doubt be snapped up by a corporate chain and cleansed of all character. More likely than not — with “scope to triple in size and a rooftop with CBD views”— it will be converted into a boutique apartment block. One thing’s certain, the Hollywood will never be the same again.

Neither will the Green Park Hotel in Darlinghurst. Sold last year by Solotel to St Vincent’s Hospital for between $5 to $10 million, “the Greenie” is destined to become a mental health outreach centre. Bought in part because of its “warmth charm”, Vinnies plans to turn the site into “an alcohol-free community facility” while “maintaining all the best elements of the local pub”.

But as Benedict Brook writes on news.com.au, “The best element of a pub — is that it’s a pub!” Brook continues: “A space that will allow vulnerable members of the community to meet and feel a sense of belonging will come at the cost of losing space that allowed vulnerable members of the community to meet and feel a sense of belonging.” It requires a stiff drink to wrap your head around that kind of logic.

While acknowledging that “the local area and vulnerable people will benefit from this sort of facility”, member for Sydney Alex Greenwich said: “I join locals in mourning the loss of what is a great hotel. The Green Park has been a safe, accepting, and fun space for LGBTQI+ communities.”

Particularly irksome for locals was the lack of transparency over the sale; the deal was done quietly and quickly. And questions have been raised as to why St Vincent’s couldn’t have purchased another venue nearby. “Surely,” asked Liberal councillor Christine Forster at the time, “with so much local commercial real estate empty, St Vincent’s could find an alternative site and this great old pub could be preserved.”

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Despite a grassroots campaign to save the Greenie, the 128-year-old pub served its last drinks on 20 December 2020. Add O’Malleys Hotel in Kings Cross to the list of recent closures and it seems Sydney’s historic pubs are disappearing as fast as schooners during a six ‘o’ clock swill.