July 1, 2014 by 250 Beers
If you’d walked into Brisbane’s Transcontinental Hotel a few years ago you would have been forgiven for adding the place to a long list of mediocre pubs. It was simply a large pub churning out ordinary beer and a popular haunt for those that love the feeling of their shoes sticking to the floor.
That has all changed with the 130-year old heritage listed building affectionately known as the Trans having undergone a significant overhaul and internal facelift thanks to some hard work driven by the Conias brothers – Demetri and Alex. They are hoping to emulate their Embassy success having witnessed that venue flourish after what had to be a rather large gamble. Converting an old landmark pub into a craft beer bar isn’t for the faint hearted although I should point out that transforming the Trans hasn’t involved a complete transition into craft beer. It would be a foolish move to alienate the majority of their patronage.
Instead, the Trans now boasts a dedicated craft beer bar within the building – located around to right of the historic internal staircase that greets visitors upon entering via the main front entrance. Despite the ground floor being open plan and almost cavernous, this craft beer area somehow feels very separate to the rest of the pub. The fridges are handsomely packed with all sorts of Australian brewed delights as well as a healthy showing of international beers. There are eight taps that follow a similar pattern to the Embassy whereby some are tied to Lion’s craft portfolio. In this instance, the split is fifty-fifty.
It’s a comfortable spot and a far cry from its previous existence as a flea pit. Familiar raw exposed brickwork (Embassy) and high ceilings complimented by soft furnishings of leather and re-purposed timber give off a warm and welcoming vibe. God help anybody that spills a beer or wine on those white sofas. The retro (possibly original?) wall tiles give a nod to years gone by and frame the room perfectly.
“Alex and I were on a steep learning curve when we took the reins at the Embassy. We’ve learnt plenty of lessons from our experiences. Combining this knowledge with the location of the Trans plus it’s amazing character we feel that the Trans can now offer a whole lot more than it’s ever been able to.”
Upon being questioned about the staff’s receptiveness to the change, he continued,
“The Trans staff have knowledge of craft beer. Most of them are big fans and therefore share a common interest with anybody coming in wanting to talk about it. It’s a great working environment.”
A complete re-fit of the upstairs area is quite something. My two visits were six weeks apart and the change to this Platform Bar is quite spectacular. With a private bar and a huge function area there will be wide appeal to businesses looking to hold corporate events, parties and the like. Unsurprisingly, the venue as a whole can easily cater for a thousand hungry people.
Back downstairs the middle bar area – known as the Public Bar – is now free of TAB and gaming screens which have been relocated to the far left area of the building. This has provided the main area with a clutter-free feeling and enables patrons to be able to walk straight through to the Dining Room.
The Dining Room itself is like the rest of the building – very spacious. I often notice bars and restaurants cramming too many tables into a space. The ethos of ‘more bums on seats equals more revenue’ is a common trait however, the Conias siblings haven’t done that with the Trans. I believe they’ve thought about the comfort of their guests ahead of trying to make a few extra dollars and I commend that.
The food menu features similar delights to the Embassy having been designed by the same chef. This makes a whole lot of sense to me. It’s fantastic affordable fare that lends itself to beer very well.
Located at the Roma Street end of George Street, the Trans has certainly stood the test of time. It was erected in 1884 – just 25 years after Brisbane became a Municipality (1859 was also the year that Queensland separated from New South Wales). It was built principally to offer food, drink and accommodation to travelers using Brisbane’s first railway station – Roma Street Station – built in 1879. Sadly, there was no Castlemaine XXXX to offer those thirsty travelers. Parched customers would have to wait another 40 years – until 1924 – when the successful XXXX brand was launched.
Thankfully, more than a century later Brisbanites can now scribble the name Transcontinental Hotel onto a different list of pubs and bars – ones pouring better beer. It’s part of the evolution of Brisbane growing up and is a refreshing option in an area of the CBD that has been lacking a mature venue for some time.
Transcontinental Hotel, 482 George Street, Brisbane.
The photographs below (and above) show the amazing transformation that the Trans has undergone – click any of them for a larger view. Thanks to Demetri for his permission to use them.