Brisbane set to welcome back an iconic family-owned hotel when The Osbourne Hotel opens her story-filled doors on October 6.
Designed for hotelier Charles Osbourne by Brisbane architect James Furnival and opened in 1864, The Osbourne Hotel stands proudly as one of Queensland’s most famous and iconic heritage hotels. Now, under the experienced hand of long-time owners the Fitzgibbons family, the hotel has been reborn, with serious nods to the original and tribute paid to the 153 years of tall tales and colourful characters that have graced her bars!
At home on the corner of Ann and Constance Street, The Osbourne was the second hotel to open in Fortitude Valley, and since that fine day in 1864, some interesting names have hung aloft the door – The Dead Rat, The Rat & Parrot and more recently, Fringe Bar and Kerbside – and some interesting characters have shared a sip, from the infamous Painters and Dockers in the 1970s, to Bjelke-Petersen pollies and punters, to fashionistas, and foodies of modern times.
Past names will go down in the history books now, because the hotel has taken back its original moniker as she gently calls to Brisbane that the heritage hotel experience is well and truly back. Over the past few months, the hotel has been completely stripped back to her original colourings, fittings and layout – plus the former space beside the hotel has been reclaimed into a leafy beer garden and bistro area, with a glass roof and capacity for up to 400 patrons, with the overall capacity of the hotel now some 800. The first level, which features the historic old boarding rooms, has been upgraded into customised function and meeting rooms as well as a private dining room.
She is home to an extensive range of craft, local and international beers, with 94 magnificent taps hosted throughout the venue. Two bespoke copper bulkheads, each home to 31 taps, are a major feature of The Outside. The only two of their kind in the country, they were created by Andale working with Brand + Slater to achieve the statement design and functionality.
In all, it is a significant and multi-million dollar investment by the owners in announcing the return of this fine lady of Fortitude Valley.
The Menu: The new menu, like the family who own The Osbourne and the old pub herself, is warm, welcoming and a little bit unexpected. The kitchen is headed by Head Chef Jamie MacKinney, who has most recently won acclaim for manning the pans at The Alliance Hotel and The Walnut Restaurant at Royal on Park. And quite frankly, there’s more flavour in the menu than there were witness statements in the Fitzgerald Inquiry! From pizzas served all day until late, to char-grilled Cape Grim steaks, plated oysters (a nice nod to the 70s with the classic Kilpatrick getting a run), and a line-up of Starters & Shares that will satisfy all palates – Peking Duck Spring Rolls share the spotlight with Karaage Chicken, Sweet Potato & Cashew Empanadas, Arancini Balls and Cheese Kranskies with Onion Jam – the menu rounds out with pub-proud Salads, Burgers, Mains, Sides and Desserts.
A special foodie moment to mention is the Tin the Table offer – starring Spanish Sardines preserved in the traditional European method, served on grilled sourdough with lemon. Perfect with a cold Craftie on a fabulous Queensland afternoon in ….well, anytime. In an experienced show of hand, there is a dedicated lunch menu featuring five classics all under $20, and nightly specials starring Brisbane’s beloved burgers, steaks, wings and pizza. This is a pub that knows its village!
The Wines: The boutique wine list stars young-gun Australian winemakers including Murdoch Hills vineyards (winner Young Winemaker of the Year 2016 & 2017), BK Wines (Young Gun of Wine 2014 and Winemakers Choice Young Gun Top 10 2015 & 2016) and Yelland and Paps (Young Gun of Wine 2017 Top 50) with the fabulously named Naked on Roller Skates Shiraz Matro from Some Young Punks, and the Whistler Get in My Belly Grenache some standouts.
Cocktails: In remarkable breaking news, cocktails are eminently drinkable and don’t take forever to create by ‘mixologists’ who raise brows if a Rum & Coke is ordered! This is a heritage pub, where all sorts and all stories find their place. Leading the cocktail charge is the namesake tipple – The Osbourne G&T, sitting proudly and flavour-filled beside the favourite is the Watermelon Margarita, Barrel Aged Old Fashion, Pineapple Basil Cucumber Pisco Sours, The Phil Collins and more. There’s also a banging range of shared options.
If these walls could talk! In the 1970s, The Osbourne was known for being the home of the notorious Painters and Dockers Union. And didn’t this bring some colourful characters to the bar for a pot! Back then, notoriety surrounded the Painters and Dockers with corruption closely following their name in media reports and stand-over tactics allegedly a standard operational procedure.
There is the famous story of the day a man was shot dead in the public bar in 1974. In the resulting coroner’s inquest, some Painters and Dockers union members who were at the hotel at the time were called to testify. Predictably they had seen and heard nothing unusual. One man testified that he was fishing a fly out of his beer at the time of the shooting, while another claimed that he was returning from the bathroom and was struggling with his zipper. A third said he was watching the first bloke try and get the bloody fly.
The Fitzgibbons family bought The Osbourne Hotel in 1980 from Castlemaine Perkins, and even then it was for good reason – Brian Fitzgibbons Snr, knew and loved the hotel as his favourite watering hole during the war, when he worked in the Naval Stores at Teneriffe. With the next generation coming through at this time, Brian (Jnr) 30 years of age at the time was set the challenge to run The Osbourne, having successfully cut his teeth at The Glen Hotel, which remains in the family. A major renovation was undertaken with new areas created; the restaurant was named Bahama Palms, the private bar was called the Jungle Bar and a drive-in bottle shop was approved by Brisbane City Council at the rear of the hotel.
In a news-making move, the family even rolled out the red carpet to the kerbside for patrons and had girls in red bikinis serving drinks on roller-skates. The then Telegraph was aghast, “Wasn’t the Osbourne of old a sort of place where you were ready to duck a roundhouse right? Dead right. The pub was a place where your record as a GPS old boy didn’t carry much weight.”
But change was coming to the Valley, and the Fitzgibbons’ saw it, welcomed it and supported it.
In 1989 a fire in the upstairs accommodation wing prompted the next era of change. After a renovation in 1992 a competition was run to rename the hotel – enter The Dead Rat Hotel! From this, it became the Rat & Parrot and then in 2003 a new era dawned with the launch of Fringe Bar. It was a cool bar for city crowds, music lovers and race-going fashionistas, a direct reflection of the rejuvenation of Fortitude Valley.
The hotel life is in the Fitzgibbons’ DNA. The family have been running pubs since 1936 when Brian’s grandfather Michael took over the then Kirrabelle Hotel in Coolangatta. They have since welcomed patrons at flagship pubs in Toowoomba, Southport, Maroochydore, Loganholme and in Brisbane, starting with one of the front-runner hotels of the city’s pub trade of the 1940s and 50s, The Daniell.
Over what is now four generations, this family has remained staunch definers of the word ‘hospitality’ – and with the relaunch of The Osbourne Hotel, it’s refreshing that nothing has changed.
Kath Rose & Associates
PO Box 208 Wilston QLD 4030
P: 07 3357 9054
M: 0416 291 493