The Edinburgh Castle Hotel is Adelaide’s oldest licensed pub and has just celebrated a milestone birthday, serving beers for 180 years.
The Ed Castle is the true embodiment of the quintessential “Old Australian pub”, with a collection of unique art pieces, dart boards, pool tables, and a quaint front bar. The pub also serves as a hub for up and coming musicians, and is a popular live music venue.
There’s something I love about old Australian pubs, they have so much character and charm. The Edinburgh Castle Hotel is especially unique having survived without pokies or any major modern renovation, the pub initially had pokies but the current owner removed them when they took over the venue. With many city pubs closing their doors over recent years, this Old Gal is still showing what is great about Australian pubs.
We sat down with the man at the helm, Tony Bond, owner and live music lover, to see what makes this pub tick and his thoughts on the Hospitality game.
Is the old Australian pub tradition dying? Not according to Tony. He believes there is still a place for a good old Aussie pub that offers great pub food, live music, and a place for the community to gather. The Ed Castle Hotel, as it is affectionately known looks to provide its customers with great pub food, delicious beers, and beautiful wines at affordable prices. He strongly believes there is a market for this type of venue, as it offers an alternative to the newer style renovated hotels. The Ed Castle is a real-life, good old Aussie pub.
Tony got in to the Hospitality game almost by accident a little over four years ago. He loved the vibrancy of The Ed Castle, particularly for its live music. Coming from an Arts background and working extensively with artists in his previous life, making the switch from managing visual artists to managing relationships with musicians was not that big a step. Tony says he finds a lot of synergies between managing artists, and working with the musicians in his current role. “The fundamentals of running a business are the same across both industries, but the hospitality game takes a lot longer to turn the ship around”.
Having said that, he’s greatly enjoyed the process of turning The Ed Castle into the great place for live music and great food it is today. Tony has always been fond of the English style pub and feels that The Ed Castle embodies this in many ways.
Tony got in to Art world originally through antiques and the auction business, with special interest in Indigenous Art. He continues to enjoy all forms of Art through having many local artists displaying their work at The Ed Castle for exhibitions, as well as an eclectic mix of his own collection scattered around the pub today.
“I like that it’s a bit scruffy and old, and I like the character and feel of the place”.
Tony put the traditional front bar back in when he first took over. Since then the business has steadily grown, and he is now proud to employee over 20 people. “A lot of them are young, and watching them develop is as rewarding as providing a great pub experience and watching the venue evolve and develop”.
Being in the West End of Adelaide, Tony is keen to be involved in the rejuvenation of the area, with the impending opening of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital bringing a big shift from one end of the city to the other. He hopes this development will bring a new vibrancy to the West End of the City, and a boost for the local businesses.
There is no doubt the Hospitality game is a tough one. “It’s hard to stay ahead in the pub business with the rising costs of running a business”. Electricity usage for the pub has been the same, but the bill has gone up over 33% in recent years. It’s a big difference that takes a big chunk out of profits. There are a lot of hidden taxes, and he believes liquor licensing fees should be relative to the turnover of a venue, instead of the size of the venue.
Tony also feels that another major challenge for city venues in Adelaide is that there is an oversupply of venues in the CBD. As with any industry, there is always going to be a natural attrition; some places survive, and some don’t. Tony’s points out that to stay at the top of the game, you need to “Be good at what you do and stay ahead of the trend curve, but also don’t chase faddish things. Know who you are!”. This focus on identity is at the heart of his strategy for The Ed Castle Hotel.
The Ed Castle recently won an award for Best Live Music Venue in the city at this year’s City Awards, further solidifying what Tony and his business partner Rob Parsons are trying to achieve with the iconic venue. Recently they have started a Monday open-mic series which has proved to be very popular. It has the venue bringing in a strong crowd, proving that people are still after that live music aspect from venues.
“Try not to bite off more than you can chew, choose your staff carefully, and be as good as you can be. Put in the hours and work hard”.
Tony also has a great deal of respect for some of the small bar players in the market such as Udaberri, stating they have a “brilliant concept” in what they are doing. He also admires pubs that are doing well in a tough market while continuing to stay true to who they are, such as the Wheatsheaf, The Grace Emily, and The Colonist to name a few. “We have some really great iconic South Australian pubs” he says.
Motivating staff? Tony feels the best way to motivate his staff is to make them proud of the business, and to love what they do. He believes in congratulating staff when the business is going well, and in listening to staff feedback and ideas on what might work well for the venue.
“Quite often some of the best ideas we’ve had have come from our staff, and some of my worst ideas have been knocked on the head by the staff. Listen to your people” he says.
Building on the community aspect of the pub as place to gather, eat, and connect with others is his grandest hope for the future of The Edinburgh Castle Hotel. Both Tony and Rob see the venue becoming a regular for workers at the hospital and others in the West End, hoping they will all join The Ed Castle community. Tony says the venue will continue to have a strong live music presence, support local artists, supply local beers and wines, and have an affordable menu with a killer beer garden for the warmer months. It will be interesting times ahead for this old pub as they welcome the new workers from the Royal Adelaide Hospital with open arms.
If you are after some old pub nostalgia, head down to The Edinburgh Castle Hotel for a beer or two, shoot some pool, listen to some local live music, or snuggle up by one of their fire places.