It's been a focal point of the local community for more than 100 years but what really brings Breakfast Point's favourite pub to life is the colourful character who runs it
Story by Rachel Sharp
If sport is a universal language, and a thriving pub the social heart of any suburb, then sportsman turned hotelier, Bill Young, is the ideal person to fuse the two. On most days, you’ll find the 46-year-old former Wallaby front rower, who played rugby union for Australia on more than 40 occasions, at his beautifully restored historic venue, The Palace Hotel, which chalked up its tenth anniversary under his ownership earlier this year.
“I grew up in pubs – they were just part of my childhood,” says the statuesque St Joseph’s College Hunter Hill alumnus whose family has owned The Concord [Hotel] since 1987.
“I wanted to create a public bar where the tradies still felt welcome but it also catered to business people and the new residents across at Breakfast Point.”
“I went away and had a professional football career, but always knew I’d come back to pubs. I bought a half-share in one at Wisemans Ferry with my father when I was playing, but this is the first pub that I bought myself after retiring [from rugby].”
” Last year, Young reacquired his father’s former venue, the Friend in Hand Hotel in Glebe, where he lived upstairs until the age of eight. His family also owns the Five Dock Hotel and nearby Illinois Hotel, bringing their portfolio to six. Still, Young’s connection to the community runs deeper than just owning the local watering hole. “My mum lives in Breakfast Point. She moved in there after my dad passed early this year. And I live nearby in Concord, so I’m in here most days.”
Last year, Young reacquired his father’s former venue, the Friend in Hand Hotel in Glebe, where he lived upstairs until the age of eight. His family also owns the Five Dock Hotel and nearby Illinois Hotel, bringing their portfolio to six. Still, Young’s connection to the community runs deeper than just owning the local watering hole. “My mum lives in Breakfast Point. She moved in there after my dad passed early this year. And I live nearby in Concord, so I’m in here most days.”
Like its owner, The Palace Hotel has a rich history. Originally opened in 1886 on the river end of Tennyson Road where River Quays Marina is now situated, it was demolished and rebuilt in its current location at the junction of the gasworks entrance and Mortlake tram terminus in the 1920s. Back then, it was famous for being one of the earliest-opening watering holes in Sydney to accommodate the gasworkers coming off night shift. By the time Young acquired it in 2010, the gasworks were long gone, the current community was part built, and the venue looked very different.
“For 15 or 20 years, there were really no customers and the pub looked old and stale. I wanted to create a public bar where the tradies still felt welcome, but it also catered to businesspeople and the new residents across at Breakfast Point,” Young explains. “I think we did quite well in keeping the original feel of the place when we modernised. The tile floors are actually the original ones we uncovered when we pulled the old carpet up. The structure and architecture of this building really lends itself to a great public bar, and with the design, the shape, the light, the feel, the area, everything, I honestly believe it’s one of the best in the city. There aren’t a lot of great public bars left in Sydney, but this is definitely one of them.”
Great food, of course, is a fundamental part of successful pub life today, too. “My father had a passion for rural property and we have a couple of farms in Canowindra and Woodstock in New South Wales where we breed beef, which we then distribute through our hotels as signature cuts,” says Young. “We always call our pubs ‘a touch of country in the city’.
“Not surprisingly, the customers have changed dramatically over the years as well. “That old school clientele of big drinkers is a dying breed, and the days of ladies sitting separately in a lounge bar, or even in the car outside with the kids while her husband came in for a drink, are long gone. Now it’s very family-focused and female oriented. Pubs are always a focal point for a community, but it’s especially so for a peninsula like Breakfast Point.
“The demographic of the area, which was very working class originally, has changed,” he points out. “You’ve still got that very generational group of people in the area who are the sons and daughters of electricians and concreters, which brings a knockabout feel, but then you’ve also got this new group of downsizers who’ve moved here. Some people would say the area is upmarket, but I think most people here have come from hard working backgrounds, so that’s why it sort of works. Everyone blends together really nicely.”
The Palace is located opposite Breakfast Point at 62 Tennyson Road, Mortlake.