The Strawberry Hills Hotel

This venue was featured in the February edition of Bartender magazine

452 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills

02 9699 3355

By Cat Strom
Cat Strom is the Editor of

Venue photography by Jonathon Miller


The last time the Strawberry Hills Hotel (est.1870) had a makeover was in 1921 when Sidney Warden transformed the Surry Hills icon into one hell of a hip watering hole decked out in the latest Art Deco style and catering to jazz aficionados. Ninety years down the track and the Strawberry Hills Hotel has emerged from an 18-month restoration costing six million dollars that is sure to set the historic public house up for another century of trading.

As one of Sydney’s largest inner city pubs, the Strawberry Hills Hotel now boasts glamour and style whilst still retaining its prominent Art Deco elements such as; leadlight windows, twenties style pub tiles and the State Theatre’s carpet, which glamorously leads patrons upstairs to the hotel’s bistro and decked garden.

According to Brenden Lawless, the hotel’s general manager, the refurbished hotel is, “deliberately a classic pub, not a bar with an identity crisis”.

Re-designing an icon without loosing the past.

Publican Margaret Hargreaves has overseen the 18-month restoration by Sydney architects Humphrey & Edwards, and the journey has been wrought with painstaking attention to detail that focused on enhancing the pub’s heritage.

“The project took many painstaking years in both design and approvals, and represents Margaret Hargreaves’ (the hotel’s owner) long standing ambition to realise her dream of refurbishing and restoring the ‘Strawberry’ so that it might re-claim its place as one of the great classic Sydney pubs,” remarked Glenn Cunnington, Associate Director at Humphrey & Edwards.

“The construction took approximately eighteen months to complete and included extensive structural works. Projects of this type are extraordinarily complex and the completed project is a testament to the skill and dedication of the design and construction team, lead by Renascent Constructions, and the determination and persistence of client!”

The restoration/ development project intentionally drew upon the heritage characteristics of the hotel’s previous incantations, and there is more than a gentle nod towards the Victorian era as well as the later Art Deco overlays. The principal design objective was to recreate a ‘classic’ pub, whilst integrating all of the bells and whistles that are associated with a contemporary hotel. The exterior is a conventional and faithful refurbishment of the heritage façade of the hotel and revives its past glory creating a bold landmark on the prominent Elizabeth and Devonshire Street corner. By contrast the interior provides a variety of new spaces, both built on and arranged around, the hotel’s historic skeleton.

The money shot has to be the crystal chandelier ceiling comprised of 3,500 illuminated suspended crystals each individually hand selected

The Hotel’s Interior

The entry level on the ground floor provides a new public bar that addresses the street corner. The public bar is unashamedly ‘old school’ and includes oiled ironbark timber floors, a wide linoleum topped timber bar, coffered ceilings and is fully tiled with handmade glazed tiles to compliment the exterior tiled finish. An expansive TAB flanks the public bar. Its design and finish is unlike a typical TAB as it has been especially designed to integrate with the “heritage” inspired appearance of the Public Bar.

The new Gaming area is located behind the Public Bar with direct entry off Elizabeth Street. The design channels the over-the-top glitz of ‘Las Vegas’ in the 70s. The original 70s fibre optic Las Vegas Streetscape panorama has been refurbished and features as the back drop to the internal gaming area. The space is finished in wall to wall gold mosaic tiles, sumptuous carpets, Makassar Ebony bar, smoke mirror and timber and brass trims. However the money shot has to be the crystal chandelier ceiling comprised of 3,500 illuminated suspended crystals each individually hand selected by the Hotel Manager, Brenden Lawless. The gaming area is fully serviced and includes an external gaming area and direct access to an outdoor terrace fronting Elizabeth Street.

The upper level of the Strawberry presents a more contemporary, but similarly warm and inviting, experience. Once you ascend the stairs to the upper level a large outdoor courtyard terrace comes as a welcome surprise. The new bar/dining areas are arranged around the courtyard space and the new internal dining areas share the light and aspect that it provides. The courtyard is built on a grey ironbark deck which is nestled behind the existing external rustic brick walls in the south eastern corner of the hotel. As Sydneysiders love outdoor spaces this courtyard is proving to be very popular, and the courtyard space is furnished with an innovative and intriguing evaporative cooling system which assists to keep the environment comfortable on really hot days. The surrounding finishes are predominantly warm timbers with the rustic nature of the original brickwork left exposed around the courtyard.

The original timber staircase has been faithfully restored and a new lift has been installed to provide an accessible link between all levels and the original timber staircase is paired with another complimentary timber staircase in the rear corner. A large void has been cut from the floor behind the street corner and provides a visual connection between the Public Bar and the upper dining and terrace areas whilst allowing more natural light back into the Public Bar area. In addition, the hotel has been completely refitted with new back of house services, toilets and plants adding the small touches that can often be most important.

Audio Visual Decisions

Given the high quality of the hotel’s renovation, General Manager Brenden Lawless spoke to Jeremy Sproull of Nightlife Music to request a custom fascia for their touch screen music and advertising Jukebox. Designed and built onsite at Nightlife’s Brisbane headquarters, the classic wood-grain fascia blends seamlessly with the Strawberry’s Art Deco theme.

Lawless and the Strawberry Hills team are delighted with their new system. The takings from the jukebox have already exceeded expectations, and proven the jukebox to be a smart financial investment for the venue. More importantly, the jukebox is connected to the venue’s customised music system and can only play songs from their chosen list. This means that the ambience the venue is trying to achieve with their music is always maintained. Nightlife Music provides tailored music and advertising solutions for venues and this is a great example of the level of detail they are known for.

  1. Stayed upstairs in the early 1980’s,when rooms were rented out to workers,sure we called it The Southern Cross back then.

  2. Is there a list of previous owners of the former Southern Cross Hotel, which became the Strawberry Hills Hotel?
    I am trying to ascertain whether my grandfather owned or ran it in 1920.

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