McDonald’s/The Eye Piece – Sydney, NSW

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It seemed like a match made in heaven: a Mickey D’s right outside upper George Street’s Metropolitan Hotel. A greasy fast food basin would have been – and for many years, was – the perfect catchment area for empty stomachs hoping to dilute the copious amounts of alcohol they were about to ingest over the course of an evening out.

So what went wrong?

As a name, the Metropolitan has stood on this spot since 1879. Before that, this part of old Sydney town wasn’t so metropolitan. Prior to 1834 this was a lumber yard: thirsty work, so that year it was released from its status as Crown land for development as a hotel, originally the Castle Tavern, and later as the preposterously named La Villa de Bordeaux.

Publican P. Wilson’s continental experiment didn’t bring the boys to the yard, and by 1867 the building, which included a dispensary, a tailors and a drapers shop, was empty. 1879’s drinkers were more amenable to the idea of a pub on this corner, and thus the Metropolitan was born.

Once the shawl of sophisticated metropolitana fell over the site in the middle of the Victorian era, it wasn’t easily lifted. As with so many Sydney pubs, a brewery took ownership – in this case, Tooth & Co. The excess real estate attached to the building was employed, in 1910, to transform the Metro into a new breed of 20th century super pub. Thus Tooth’s dispensed with the dispensary and tailors, a bottle shop was added to the ground floor, and the neighbouring terrace, built at the site’s inception in 1834, was incorporated into the metropolis of George and Bridge.

In the last century the hotel has changed owners a few times. In the 1930s it was the Bateman’s Metropolitan. In the 60s, it was part of Claude Fay’s hotel portfolio. Today, it’s back to the plain old Metropolitan. This lack of ownership qualifier perhaps distills the idea of a ‘Metropolitan hotel’ to its purest essence – it belongs to no one, to everyone.

Or perhaps we should stick to talking about the ground floor.

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McDonald’s and a night on the plonk used to be synonymous, but over the years there’s been a move by imbibers away from processed junk and kebabs, and toward a traditional pub feed. Pubs have seized on the move, providing eateries and “classic” menus in newly renovated wings of what were once snooker rooms or smoking lounges.

Even the trusty kebab has been elbowed out of contention by the schnitty. Where did my country go?

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So in a rare move, this McDonald’s beat a hasty retreat to less discerning pastures. You don’t often see the Golden Arches admitting defeat, let alone leaving up scads of damning evidence of their tenancy here.

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Poor form too, the Eye Piece, which has opted only to invest in the ubiquitous trend of the pop-up store rather than a real shopfront. As Sydney rent prices continue to accelerate towards Uncle Scrooge-levels of ridiculous money, shop owners have fought back by negotiating shorter terms. This means there’s no need for a total shopfront fit out, which in this case has laid bare the failure of Ronald and associates.

Funny choice of location for an optometrist though, isn’t it? Specs downstairs, beer goggles upstairs.

It seems like a match made in heaven.

6 responses

  1. Love your work, Michael!

  2. And before it was McDonalds, it was Remo General Store (Darlinghurst’s ‘outpost’ store), which went into the space after the building had been refurbished and re-opened in the 90’s.
    https://remogeneralstore.com/

  3. Just walked past this one yesterday. Its a sad state of affairs when a pub is replaced by another glasses shop.

  4. Hi Michael,

    “Boy, did I enjoy the beer upstairs! Especially after the amazing eye test from down stairs!”

    I’m the owner of The Eye Piece Optometrist and I loved reading your blog. It’s always a nice surprise to come across our business name on a google listing.

    From reading your article I was fascinated by the history of the building and your knowledge of Sydney CBD.
    Unfortunately, as you put it “Poor form too, the Eye Piece, which has opted only to invest in the ubiquitous trend of the pop-up store rather than a real shopfront”, was in some way true, but historically wrong…the “Poor form” part that is.
    Like the ebb and flow of the changing Sydney CBD landscape, we became victims of this roller-coaster ride by the greater powers of landlords and Sydney City Council.

    We have been servicing the needs of our patients in our beautiful Sydney CBD and North Shore for 12 years. Originally located at 175 Pitt Street for the best part of a decade, we were unfortunately tapped on the shoulder to vacate as Tiffany & Co wanted our store location.
    Consequently, as luck would have it, we quickly found a permanent leasing (with “a real shopfront”) in the amazing heritage building at 10-14 Hunter Street, Sydney. (We would absolutely love you to write an article about this location…after we move in!).

    Unfortunately, due to unforeseeable council issues that comes with heritage listed buildings, we have still not been able to tenant it.

    Cutting the long story short, the same landlord owns 244 George Street building that used to encompass Metro and the golden arches. We were giving an option to tenant this site as a “pop up” until the landlord rectified the issues with the council on 10 Hunter St. We were led to believe that our hiatus at this site would only be for 2-4months…it ended up being 18 months. Hence the lack of a proper shop fit out.

    We did not seek the “ubiquitous trend” of being a pop-up shop, but had our hands tied. As a small business owner, the challenge in this retail environment is to provide continuing care to our clients and just as importantly, to provide ongoing employment to the brilliant individuals that are the face of The Eye Piece.

    So, what’s happening at 244 George St now? Well the beers dried up. Metro Hotel has moved out temporarily as the building gets renovated. We’ve been given another tap on the shoulder. We are now at 60-70 Elizabeth Street…as a pop-up. Yes, a pop-up. Walk past 10 Hunter St and you’ll see why.

    1. Hi Paul,
      Thanks for the illumination! It seems as if the poor form is once again down to the Sydney City Council, which should surprise no-one. And as for Hunter Street…

      1. Hi Michael!

        I’ll let you know once Hunter Street is opens. Would love you to do a piece on this beautiful building one day.

        Cheers

        PAUL

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