Insights on beer marketing & PR by a beer-war vet

22 February

Boutique or bust: what’s happening to pubs?

The rate of change to pubs in South Melbourne seems to have cranked up recently.

There’s lots of new ‘For Auction’ and ‘Sold’ signs on pubs: at the Town Hall and Water Rat pubs for example. Indeed, the former is closed.

I’m not sure if what I’m noticing is an acceleration of long term change or something new. I suspect the former. South Melbourne is littered with many converted pubs of yesteryear: mostly on street corners.

Clearly the pressure is on to have a point-of-difference to traditional watering holes.

Laté gentrification
Gentrification – and its ’boutique’ pub offer – seems to be following the path set by cool coffee shops in the area like St Ali and Deadman Espresso.

The Cricket Club pub on Clarendon Street for example is being massively overhauled and currently features signage for a boutique pub to open there mid 2014.

Honey Bar on Clarendon Street and Lamaro’s on Cecil Street and The Wayside Inn already offer trendy, gentrified venues. New (hole in the wall) bars like Bellota in Bank Street and Claypots at the Market are appearing.

Meanwhile other pubs have gently gentrified, like The George which has rebadged itself as the ‘G’, and the Golden Gate which modernised and now touts itself as a gastro pub.


The Cricket Club hotel on Clarendon going ’boutique’

Some traditional pubs like the Emerald and the Rising Sun look like they are doing ok. The line up of empties outside the Emerald was pretty healthy by today’s standards.

Clearly they have taken steps to improve their offer and cater for the changing demography of their catchments.

A healthy line-up of kegs outside the Emerald on Clarendon

A healthy line-up of kegs outside the Emerald on Clarendon

Others like Bells pub (which saw better days when Billy was there), the Maori Chief and Southern Cross Hotel just seem to be hanging on.

Get niche or get out
The old marketing saying went “Get big. Get niche. Or get out.”

Well big ain’t an option. And, if South Melbourne is indicative, then the pressure for pubs to find a viable niche and cater for it is mounting.

Unfortunately long-standing ‘locals’ continue to close as they fail to find such support.


Hopefully the interest provided by craft beers, as seen in the St Kilda Taphouse for example, will help pub owners and pub workers to keep the customers coming.