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.
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?
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.
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.
What’s in a name? The name Cronulla inspires certain imagery: beaches, beer and brawls. With its vibrant social life and strong sense of community, Bondi’s brother from another planet provides the kind of rough-around-the-edges seaside fun that’s expected of Australia, just with less backpackers.
Which is strange, because there’s never been a shortage of places to stay and get tanked. If you weren’t a local (in which case, what were you doing there?), you were spoiled for thirst-quenching options after your day in the sun, and one such option was the Hotel Cecil.
Tell me this now: what kind of names do you associate with Cronulla? Mark, Kai, Tyler…Cecil? Has anyone named Cecil ever set thonged foot into the Shire, let alone Cronulla Beach?
The answer is yes. In 1927, Cecil J. Munro was the president of the local shire, and owned a block of flats by the beach. Needless to say, when you’re the president your ego can run a little wild. Don’t ask why his name is spelled Monro in the pics and not in the history…as we all know, when people get rich they lose their minds.
Munro/Monro converted his block of flats into the Hotel Cecil. By the end of the year, the 70-bedroom bungalow-style hotel was ready for action.
Holiday-makers and locals alike enjoyed the opportunity to cecil down so close to the beach (You’re fired – Ed), but a problem soon became apparent: where were the balls?
Never one to miss an opportunity to stroke that ego, Cecil had a ballroom and cafe built beside the Hotel Cecil, right on the beach.
Today, cafes strive to be as tiny as possible, so as to maximise the saturation of lattes throughout the land. Take a look at this, and revel in the decadence of another era:
For decades to come, the Hotel Cecil played host to debauched nights, hungover mornings, sandy feet padding across ratty carpets and vinyl flooring, and of course tall, cool schooners of Tooths.
That’s right – Tooths. The brewer purchased Hotel Cecil in 1936, and funded an expansion in 1940 that doubled the Cecil’s size.
By then, Munro/Monro was long out of the picture, but his enterprising spirit had ensured Cronulla was branded with all of his names. Just two streets away from Hotel Cecil is Monro Park.
All it takes to solidify an identity is a dip of the toes into the pool of popular culture, and for Cronulla, that process of galvanization happened in 1979, with the release of the novel Puberty Blues.
The novel, by Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette, depicted the suburb’s surf culture through the eyes of two teenage girls. It instantly struck a nerve, and acted as a kind of rite-of-passage for teenagers all over Australia – such was the broad appeal of the tenets of Cronulla.
A film version followed in 1981 to great success, cementing the sights and sounds of 2230 for all time. That image has persisted in the decades since, and will likely persist until the world ends, but Cronulla seems quite happy with that.
That said, the Cronulla of Puberty Blues doesn’t quite resemble the Cronulla of today. Like many of its residents, the suburb has undergone facelift after facelift, and certain corners are almost unrecognizable.
Like the Hotel Cecil, for example. It was neutered in the late 1950s, when the ballroom was demolished, and at some point along the way it swapped the words of its name around to suit the wider transition from hotels to pubs.
But the hotel didn’t completely close until 1988, when licensee (and Cecil’s descendant) Shane Munro (that’s more like it) sold it to a property developer. By then, Tooths was long out of the picture…but that’s another story.
Demolition began in the early 90s, and I think you know where this story is going.
I can’t help but think the final night of the original Cecil would have been a wild one. A balmy March evening when hundreds of people, each of whom had forged personal relationships with the hotel over the years, raised their Tooths (or equivalent) one last time. By the end it was, along with Joe’s Milk Bar and the Cronulla Workers Club, one of Cronulla’s landmarks.
Today, it’s that old, bland story so often told in the pages of Past/Lives…
Yes, it’s another one of those “Let’s give it the same name was what was once there to try to capture some of the spirit and let the legend live on” situations, but you’re not fooling anybody. It’s a completely different, impersonal building, and the only drinking going on here is when rich loveless marrieds drink alone.
But what’s in a name? Around the back, in the oddly named Ozone Street, is the sweet spot: the original facade incorporated into the new Cecil.
I know this sort of thing is always meant to be a respectful tip of the tam-o-shanter to the original, but look at the imagery.
Operating between 1841 and 1859, Homebush Racecourse was Sydney’s premier horseracing venue. It was located on the Wentworth Estate in the Homebush area, and stood in the approximate area encompassing the corner of today’s Underwood and Parramatta Roads. When Randwick Racecourse opened in 1859, it superseded Homebush’s track, causing the latter to fall into a period of dereliction, although it still operated as a track until 1880. A man’s body was found on the course in 1860, the grandstand spectacularly burned down in 1869, and throughout the 1870s it was used for human running races. When the Homebush Abattoir was established in 1915, the site of the racecourse was employed as the slaughterhouse saleyards.
The only evidence that horseracing ever took place in the area is this pub, located along Parramatta Road, east of Underwood Road. The Horse & Jockey Hotel itself has a colourful history – it was originally the Half Way Hotel, named for its location halfway between the city and Parramatta. The site of the death of Australia’s first bushranger, and once patronised by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, the original hotel changed its name for the establishment of the racecourse (which it overlooked), and was the site of the inquest into the 1869 grandstand fire. Rebuilt beside its original site in 1876, the pub itself burned down in the early 1920s. It was rebuilt again in its present form soon after and remains as the only reminder of Homebush’s racing days.