Royal Mail Hotel up for sale after relaunching as a new home for veterans

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Brendan Rees

An iconic West Melbourne pub, which recently relaunched as a haven for ex-service personnel and veterans, has suddenly closed its doors after the owners decided to sell up.

Shaun Matheson, a former army officer who heads a charity group called The Ark of Veterans, was behind the rebirth of the Royal Mail Hotel at the corner of Spencer and Stanley streets after the popular watering hole closed in January 2021.

He said he had had a great response from the community after having undertaken a six-month renovation project to transform the venue into a comfortable space for veterans to call home.

But after just eight weeks of the much-anticipated reopening, Mr Matheson said his pub dream was over after an “auction” sign went up at the front of the building in February.

“Everyone stopped coming in, the pub shut overnight,” he said.

Mr Matheson said he was saddened to have to say goodbye to the community who had embraced the new-look venue, which featured different coloured walls to represent the army, navy, and air force in the front bar area.

There were also military photos and memorabilia on display as well as machine gun cases used as tabletops.

He said all expenses that went towards the pub’s makeover had been raised through The Ark of Veterans, a training centre based in Lang Lang in Melbourne’s southeast where veterans could restore old Holdens.

Mr Matheson said his intention for the pubwasn’t about drinking beer, but rather offering a place of friendship and support and a place to share a yarn – with all money raised from the sale of drinks going towards his charity. 

It was also a place where former police, ambulance, and fire brigade personnel could meet up.

“They started coming in in good numbers, they were looking forward to the local pub reopening,” he said.

“It was a great peaceful place, it had a great vibe, and even the other local bar people … they were a great help to me.”

“From that bar we were building community … and the fact that that stops is disheartening.”

But he added, “The work that we do actually continues, it doesn’t rest on the pub.”

While Mr Matheson said he didn’t expect veterans to travel to Lang Lang, he hoped veterans in the West Melbourne community would keep connecting.

“The awareness program we were able to develop from that bar was quite significant,” he said.

“If they [veterans] could continue with their own awareness or their own understanding or their own desire to be involved with a veteran somewhere beyond us that would be great.”

Mr Matheson said he had been given the opportunity to run the pub rent-free for at least 18 months, adding the owner’s “heart was to help the veterans” but a change of circumstances meant the pub had to be listed for sale.

“We had a good crack at it, but it didn’t work,” Mr Matheson said. “I spent a truck load of cash which I probably shouldn’t have in hindsight, but what are you going to do?”

The Royal Mail Hotel, built in 1938, was formerly run by Davydd Griffiths who is now a City of Melbourne councillor.  

“It’s very much in my thoughts at the moment,” Cr Griffiths said of the pub, which he regretfully had to walk away from in 2021 after two years due to the extensive costs of renovations required, with the main part of the building comprising of the front bar being up to a century old.

“A well-run pub should be a cornerstone of a community and a place where everyone can come together and enjoy hospitality, and to lose those kinds of spaces is very disappointing for a suburb like West Melbourne.”

The sale of the hotel is being managed by the Colliers Melbourne City Sales team, which is conducting an international expressions of interest campaign closing on March 18 at 12.30pm with a $4 million-plus price guide. 

Colliers executive Alexander Leggo said interest had been received from various parties but mostly from hospitality groups, which was a promising sign the hotel may not have poured its last drinks just yet.

“It would be great to see it come back to life, there’s a lot of residential and mixed-use projects coming up in the area but there hasn’t been a lot of new hospitality venues, so it would be sad to see it go,” he said.

The sale comes as North Melbourne’s iconic Court House Hotel, which dates back to the 19th century, is also up for sale •

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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