Since taking over the Stanley Bridge Tavern in late 2016, Pablo Theodoros and his co-owners have managed to transform the Adelaide Hills pub to a destination restaurant while keeping the front-bar regulars happy.
When it was announced that Theodoros, Melissa Lee and Frank Hannon-Tan were taking over the historic Stanley Bridge Tavern, a sister venue to the Italian hotspot Amalfi was originally part of the conversation (Hannon-Tan is a co-owner of Amalfi and Mother Vine).
That didn’t eventuate for a number of reasons. Since getting the key, Theodoros (who also co-owns city wine bar Mother Vine with Hannon-Tan) and his partners have organically evolved the pub, which has been operating since 1853. Before they took over, the pub was known for its old school small front bar and one of its regulars, a Jack Russell called Benny, but now the Verdun hotel is a destination restaurant and bar.
“We had a million-and-one different ideas when we first thought about buying it with Frank and Mel,” Theodoros says. “We spent the first couple of months refreshing the menu and the wine list. It was very quiet when we first took over.” They focussed on the locals, not just the front bar regulars, but members of the community to see what they wanted from the place.
“Getting to know the locals and getting their acceptance was definitely the most important thing. We didn’t want to rub anyone up the wrong way. They’re the backbone of this place. Some of the locals have been here drinking every night for 40-odd years. Doing a big makeover was never part of the plan; we just want to preserve the pub for the future. We’d rather focus on the food, service and the local community.”
Business was slow at the start and didn’t pick up until summer 2016/17 as word of mouth kicked in and a beer garden was installed.
“It was difficult finding the right kitchen team in the first year. You always have to tweak things here and there. Originally my brother was the head chef; he helped set it up and then moved on,” Theodoros says.
Their current head chef, Jonnie Eime, focuses on local and seasonal produce for the restaurant menu that features pub classics as well as more refined dishes. “That’s worked really well for the locals who want something nice but not fine dining. It is next level compared to your regular country pub.”
There are plenty of plans in the works including a middle bar, a restaurant refit and a bottle shop. They want the Stanley Bridge to be a food and wine hub for the Hills and are looking to The Royal Mail in Dunkeld, which was one of the first Australian gastro pubs, and The Victory Hotel as inspirations.
“We will have a bottle shop in one of the rooms pretty soon mainly featuring small producers from the Adelaide Hills who don’t have cellar doors. Long term, there is a cellar underneath we’d love to rejuvenate a la The Victory Hotel, but that’s a long way down the track. We really want to make it a hub in the Adelaide Hills. A destination for tourists but also a place for the locals to bring their friends and family.”
Then there are plans to restore another building on the property, but their scheme is hush hush for now.
“That’s going to be rejuvenated into something pretty special in the next couple of months,” Theodoros says.
“We’re still finalising the details, it will add another dimension to the pub.”
Are the front bar regulars still happy given all the changes?
“They don’t want us to be too busy,” Theodoros laughs. “But they’re quite generous, too. They always lend a hand when we need it; they’re very much the spokesmen for the pub.”
This article first appeared in Hot 100 Wines 2017/2018, now available on the street
Header photo: Josh Geelen