Call us biased, but pubs are the best places on the planet. We especially love this one. The history, the ghosts of the past, the stories and of course, its current standing as one of the staple pubs of the Illawarra.
With the help of the pub history buff, Mick Roberts, as well as the grandchildren of the original publican, we were able to put together quite a succinct history of the majestic Hotel Illawarra and really take the time to look back, so we could take the right steps forwards. The history we uncovered is fascinating. We'll give you the summarised version.
Hotel Illawarra got knocked up at the tail end of Tooth & Co's all-mighty plight to put a pub on every corner across Sydney and surrounds. WWII was in full swing and the Gong was pumping out steel to help the war effort. It was all kicking off down here, the only problem was there was nowhere for the poor buggers to sleep. Especially nicer places where you wouldn't have to spoon rats to keep warm (cough, the Harp Hotel)
Freshly constructed with crisp carpet and running hot water, the swankiest hotel in town was complete in 1938 and needed a touch of class and elegance at the helm. And so, in an almost unprecedented move, Hotel Illawarra was put in the custodial care of the one, the only Hilda Gertrude Condon and her 2 sisters. Daughters of a publican and a lifetime of working in and around pubs, their polished veneer did nothing to hide the inner strength required to tame a drinking hole in those days. And so, Wollongong hosted one of the only truly female-operated hotels in NSW, potentially the world (*objection, speculation*)
In a world of war, corruption and top hats so started the 83-year journey to where we currently stand. Put aside the deaths (most natural), the arrests of undie thieves and the one deal that took place in the now Public Bar that turned the tide of the war; that's all juicy stuff but the real candle that we keep burning to this day is the notoriety of Hotel Illawarra as a big hotel with an even bigger heart. If you want to go down a full historic rabbit hole, read THIS.
The eternal history of the hotel was the way in which it empathetically served not only the people of the Illawarra but also the sea of troops coming through town. There's even a quote from one smooth-talking American soldier saying that Hilda had more notoriety in the US than Katharine Hepburn. No doubt the utterings of a bloke that's would have been about as smooth as pelican sh*t by today's standards, but there's no doubt that Hilda was the queen of Wollongong at the time and had a heart as big as her formidable presence.
Today, the history of the hotel has never been more alive. There's not a local that darkens the doorways that won't attest to the great work that the hotel's ladies do in keeping the hotel thriving. The strength and determination of Hilda live on through the hotel's current 'first ladies' as they take the endless sea of challenges this hotel brings and negotiates them with finesse and empathy. The Illawarra Mercury reports it beautifully HERE
If the hotel's history has you intrigued, come pay us a visit and take a tour through 'Hildas Bar' which is a mini-museum dedicated to Hilda, her family and the history of both the hotel and Wollongong.
Fast forward to 2020 and the hotel has now been beautifully renovated to present itself as a quintessential Australian hotel, with the full spectrum of the community at heart. If you're a 1-year-old playing with an activity pack or 90-year-old sipping on a middy of Reschs, we have you and everyone in-between in mind in everything we do.
The Public Bar embraces that classic pub feels that has stood the test of time. 18 beers on tap, the murmur of the TAB and windows to watch the day go by over a cold beer, this patch of the hotel has got everything a classic pub aficionado could ever need.
The Courtyard has all the best elements of an alfresco setting, with plenty of undercover spaces to avoid both the sun and rain. We've got the best view of our 5m2 outdoor screen as well as The Illa's famous stage that proudly showcases a huge array of artists, both local and beyond.
Hilda's Bar is a multi-function room. Part museum, part function space and part cocktail space, the warm, floral and inviting room has a great feel for everyone who chooses to occupy the space.
Cocktail Corner is prime real estate if you want to sip on our bespoke cocktails whilst our mixologists talk you through the process.
Market Street Dining is our new alfresco dining space that is very popular with the people of Wollongong, especially the dog owners.
Alongside the extensive ground floor renovation, we proudly execute our mantra of the purpose of profits in everything we do. We now sell over 55% of food and beverage that is produced in the Greater Illawarra, as well as supporting a huge array of charities and local initiatives. Whilst we're tooting our own honker, we're currently in the process of creating a hospitality sustainability initiative that we're hoping will become industry standard in the near future.
Wollongong deserves a great pub that looks out for all aspects of the community and we're on a mission to deliver.