Amid a colony in a state of dichotomy, 1853 saw the construction of Victoria’s first licensed hotel – Mac’s Hotel. It was set amidst a wild Australian landscape where settlers were flooding our shores in search of land and gold, and convicts were rallying against the injustices of the class system. And it’s this historic rebel narrative that has been embraced by Breathe Architecture, the team behind the stunning transformation of the old public house into the new Captain Melville.
Inspired by the ghosts of the hotel’s first colony-era patrons, the reinvention of Captain Melville from a dark inner city nightclub into a restaurant and bar. With the building listed on the Victorian Heritage Register, the hotel was sensitively stripped back, with careful consideration for architecture with a repurposed aesthetic, keeping as much of the old building as possible. Responding to the gold rush inspired environment (yet stealthily dodging a colonial museum or cliché), materials that were once used on hand during the settlement – steel, timber, leather, canvas – became the conceptual framework for the design and material palette.
Captain Melville is divided into two main parts, with the casual front bar encased in steel and the ambidextrous space of the large dining hall to the rear. The atmosphere connects to the past in a very modern way – peaked tent structures amid communal tables (mess hall style) evokes the early tent cities of Melbourne, while steel mesh throughout frames displays of ingredients, reminiscent of the colonial butchers that would hang their netted meats uncensored in plain view.
And as for Melville himself? The word is he was a man with a devilish spirit and a sense of adventure who had been transported from Scotland to Van Diemen’s Land at the age of 15 only to become a thorn in the side of the local courts due to his constant escapes. Cheeky, brave and rebellious in nature … just like the restaurant & bar that carries his name today.