Inside the Collection

The Clare is closing

Photograph Clare Hotel, 2010
Clare Hotel, 2010. Photo by Sotha Bourn.

The Clare Hotel on Broadway is closing this year. It will open again, but not as the comfortably crumpled venue of recent times. The Clare’s past and likely future are reflective of the fortunes of Sydney pubs.

The Clare like all Sydney pubs built during the twentieth century was shaped by restrictive licensing laws. During the 1920s thanks to the temperance movement pubs lost the small bars and parlours where all sorts of things could be said and done more or less in private.

Sydney pubs assumed their generic format with a large public bar designed for stand-up drinking, a saloon bar and a lounge or parlour for the ladies. The major social distinctions of class and gender were maintained and all was on view to the management. Since then the architecture has survived but the reasons for it are long forgotten and turned to all sorts of new purposes.

Until the 1970s the Clare had no ‘ladies’ for drinkers in the public and saloon bars on the ground floor. The women’s toilet was on the first floor near the lounge. It’s instructive that only thirty or so years ago the bars of a city pub were still totally men-only. Meanwhile the women drinking in the lounge were doubly discriminated against, as drinks there were more expensive. Certainly no one thought that women’s bar facilities were necessary back in 1940 when the pub was built.

I know this because we have some architectural drawings of the Clare in the collection, including drawings of alterations made in 1980 when the saloon bar toilet was converted for women patrons.  A few years earlier a food bar (and a tiny ‘ladies’) had been installed off the public bar. Obviously the Clare’s clientele and its expectations were changing.

The drawings are part of a collection donated in 1998 by George Tickelpenny, the last architect employed by Tooth & Co to design for its many hotels. In 1990 Tooth’s sold the last of its hotels – it had once owned hundreds of them – and the company architect’s office was closed.

These drawings include a 1940 elevation by the hotel’s architect Sidney Warden, very close to the final design although it includes a corner feature with flagpoles which was not built.  (During the design phase the pub was still being called Ryan’s, the name of the predecessor pub on the site.)

Architectural drawing of Clare (Ryan's) Hotel 1940
Sidney Warden, Developed elevation of Clare (Ryan’s) Hotel, 1940. PHM collection 98/13/1 Archive, architectural drawings of hotels, Tooth & Co Ltd and others, Australia, 1920-1990.

The original island bar in the public bar was removed during the 1970s – you can see where it was from the oval design in the ceiling. The saloon bar was and is intact, if  occupied by many more poker machines than drinkers. Most of the Clare drawings in our collection relate to early 1980s plans to turn the first and second floors into a visitor and training centre for the brewery (which owned the Clare), including a lecture room, a new bar, a dining area etc.

None of this ever happened. Instead in 1985 Tooth’s Kent Brewery (but not the Clare) was sold to Carlton and United Breweries, a Victorian company which thought it could convince Sydneysiders to drink Fosters. Not surprisingly the brewery closed in 2005. Fosters Lager is one of the few internationally successful Australian brand names, widely believed to be typical of what Australians drink. In fact despite the best efforts of CUB Fosters’ Australian market share is tiny.

By 2005 the Clare‘s brewery worker clientele had already been joined by UTS students from across the way. A selection of well-used lounges was added to complement the original tiles (which had been concealed by wood veneer) and the handsome fibrous plaster ceilings. As the Herald declared: ‘It’s a worker’s pub turned kitsch lounge room and Sydney’s groovers are embracing the flashback’. It wasn’t all groovers: a few Powerhouse types have also been known to visit.

Photograph of patrons inside the Clare 2002
At the Clare, 2002. Photo by Marinco Kojdanovski.

However we know that the Clare will close during 2013 and reopen during 2014 as part of a boutique residential hotel which also includes its neighbour the former Kent Brewery administration building. The developers promise that ‘Heritage features such as timber panelled boardrooms and historic CUB entertaining areas will be retained, with contemporary additions, creating a vibrant and comfortable urban hotel. The unique industrial qualities of the Carlton and United Brewery’s heyday will be evidenced throughout the hotel’.

Architectural drawing Clare Hotel redevelopment
TZG Architects, Clare Hotel redevelopment. Copyright TZG.

You can see here how the new venue is supposed to look. An extra floor is being added to the Clare; I presume this is where the promised roof-top pool and bar will be located.  The architects are Tonkin Zulhaika Greer so the project is in good hands I guess.

In some respects the Clare renovation encapsulates one of the perennial ironies of heritage preservation. Restoring a building to a marketable and usable function is the best way to preserve it; nothing is more at risk than an unused building. So a building is restored and preserved but its former clientele is often priced out; in future the Clare may be for special occasions only.

Another product of heritage consciousness is the new building next door to the Clare on the corner of Broadway and Kensington Lane. At the insistence of the City Council’s planners, this new seven-storey apartment block respectfully matches the curved brickwork and detailing of the Clare. According to Council ‘the design responds to the immediate character by providing a curved building facade to mirror the adjacent County Clare Inn…The materials, finishes and detailing of the proposed building are derived from the existing architectural language of the precinct…’

I’m not sure that context-driven faux heritage is the best response to a historic precinct like this, especially when the new building towers over its neighbouring architectural inspiration. Nonetheless Council’s intentions are certainly laudable as is it’s heritage listing of the Clare. A similar rush of mixed feelings is inspired by promo images for the Clare/Kensington Lane redevelopment. I wish they’d left the Vespa out.

Visualisation of proposed Kensington Lane redevelopment
Proposed Kensington Lane redevelopment. Copyright Frasers Properties.

As befits a conscientious architecture curator I might have to organise some ‘farewell’ drinks soon.

Photograph of Hotel Clare 1941
Hotel Clare, 1941. PHM Collection 86/4423. File Box, containing index cards with photographs of hotel properties.

Charles Pickett, curator

15 responses to “The Clare is closing

  • This explains SO much about the ladies toilet. This also makes me sad, little known fact Charles, but me and my husband met at the Clare 6 years ago. I will miss it but always have my memory of a mid 2000s Clare stored away in my mind.

  • Great post. We’ve linked to this post on the Central Park Sydney Facebook page. Lisa McCutchion, Frasers Property

  • 1970-71 My grandfather was the licensee. My grandmother did the accounts and ran the snack bar which involved remembering what the regulars ate for lunch. My mother tells me that clientele included the food critic from (she thinks) the Telegraph who on one occasion when she was helping asked for a roast beef sandwich. She conveyed his order to her mother knowing there was no beef on the menu! “we give him lamb, he doesn’t know the difference”.
    My uncle had his farewell party in the saloon Nov 1970 then off to Vietnam War. Lots of memories.

  • And according to the Central Park Facebook page mentioned below, the Clare will not be closing until late in 2013.

  • More sickening sterile gentification in the name of greed. I hope the crappy designer hotels fails miserably & the slimy owner goes bankrupt.

  • Charles, I’d be keen to get your opinion on this development, as it approaches unveiling in July. Like most of the commenters above, I indulge in a certain nostalgia for the crunchy carpeted old pub, but your point about the necessity to repurpose in order to preserve, is potent.

    I’m quite intrigued by the revitalization of this whole zone, its potential to re-axis the city away from tony harbour views, towards a more gritty inner West. This may make Sydney a real city, instead of a fantasy citadel on the edge of an over-priced Pacific foreshore.


    • Stephen, In response to your enquiry linked to Charles Pickett’s “The Clare is closing” blog post – let me just say that Charles and the rest of us who enjoyed the old school ‘crunchy carpet’ feel of the Clare are still watching this new development unfold. Charles was pretty enthusiastic about the new food options that were appearing where the brewery was and I have gleefully observed the removal of barriers to walking between Broadway and the beginnings of the west. This simple transformation opens up Chippendale to the pedestrian and even brings Redfern a little closer. I enjoy the new pedestrian access and agree that this offers a view to the ‘grittier’ inner west which is lighter on baubles, bangles and beads.

      Campbell Bickerstaff, Assistant Curator

  • I worked for Tooth and Co at Broadway from January 1962 until September 1966.

    What a great place to work in your first job. My father worked for Kent Brewery as a cooper. This story has bought so many memories flooding back.

  • In 1880, Margaret McDermott, married James, (John ) Clune, after the death of his first wife, Mary Ann Clune, daughter of Thomas Clune.
    Margaret and her sister, Mary, were related to William and Julia Shine, who had many hotels in the area in the late 1870’s. They both died by 1880 , leaving their estate to Margaret and Mary.

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