A bar built to last: go inside The Gresham


The Gresham
308 Queen Street, Brisbane

By Sam Bygrave

Rather than looking to the southern states, or further ashore to Europe or America, The Gresham, on the site of a heritage listed building in Queen Street Brisbane, is a new bar deeply rooted in its place: Queensland.



“We built the vision for The Gresham around the site and its heritage aspect,” said co-owner, Andrew Baturo. “The idea was to have a bar that was true to its Queensland heritage without being cheesy.“

The name of the bar itself is no new thing, said Baturo.

“The Gresham is based on the original name of “The Gresham Hotel” that was located at the opposite end of Gresham Lane, closest to Adelaide Street,” he said. “It’s very much a tribute to the history of the building and the local area.”

And what a rich story that hotel had, too. We asked Baturo for a quick run down on the history:  “The Gresham Hotel opened in 1890 and was designed by Architect JH Buckeridge. It contained 77 hotel rooms and small office spaces fronting Adelaide Street. It was one of the first buildings in Brisbane to become an “electricity customer.”  Despite a number of challenges over the years, including floods and the infamous 1942 Battle of Brisbane, The Gresham Hotel always received high praise and attracted some of the most pivotal and influential community members of the era. Original QANTAS Executives and advisors even named the iconic airline in the hotel.”

The Gresham

The original Gresham Hotel received a rave review in the pages of the Brisbane Courier when it opened in 1890.

“Throughout the building all the decorations are in excellent taste,” the paper wrote, “giving the impression of solidity combined with usefulness. Behind the private bar, and readily communicating with it is a well-lit and admirably-fitted billiard room.”

That fit-out cost the original hotel owners 15,000 pounds — which is more than $1.95 million in today’s money. And the “solidity” and “usefulness” of the original work was something Baturo and co-owners Paul Piticco and Denis Sheahan wanted to emphasise as well.

“In years gone by, authenticity and quality of workmanship was essential,” he said, “so we really focused on this and ensured it was reflected in the finished product.”

The result is a bar that the owners hope will stand the test of time.

“When you walk into the bar, we wanted you to feel that you’ve pulled the dust covers off, and it looks like it would have 50 years ago, and will look the same in 50 years time,” said Baturo.

It’s a good thing they’ve eschewed the current vogue for all things American, as Queen Street, where the bar sits today, has seen its squabbles with Americans in the past — most famously in what was dubbed, the Battle of Brisbane in November, 1942.

In 1942 Brisbane was full of American soldiers, as it was a major stationing base in efforts to fight the Japanese. In November, after weeks of growing tensions between Australian and American soldiers, all hell broke loose on Queen Street.

The Australians were resentful at having felt like they’d lost control of their own town. Brawls would break out between American GIs and and Aussie Diggers, over money, cigarettes and importantly, girls.

Damn those Americans with their nice manners and money. One brawl lead to an Australian being shot and killed by an American, and once word had got around, every American the Diggers came across was set upon. They corralled them on Queen Street, not far from the place of The Gresham Hotel, kicking the bejeesus out of the Yanks. Things died down after two days, but for The Gresham now to be an American bar, well, that wouldn’t sit quite right.

In fact, the whole theming thing is pretty muted at The Gresham and is what general manager Mat Hewitt wants to see more of, saying that he’d like to see Brisbane with  “more straight[-up] bars and less bars that are focused around a theme.”

Working on a heritage listed building is not without its challenges, said Baturo.

“The heritage element of the building meant there was extensive consultation with the EPA and heritage experts,” he said.

“Also, the size and makeup of the room was challenging from a design perspective. We wanted to do justice to the high ceilings and highlight the features within the building that already existed without making it look contrived. I think we achieved this.”

With that in mind what the bar offers is also informed by the site, said Baturo.

“The actual site, the building itself and its history drives what we do at The Gresham. Certain elements have been inspired from some of the best bars in the world – The Pikey, Clover Club, Sassafras. What we really wanted to do was create an authentic Queensland experience that focuses on serving great drinks.”

Hewitt, as the guy responsible for delivering this, agrees.“The focus is all about creating a great bar experience for the customer, giving them honest, thoughtful service. The concept for the list was accessible, quick, playful drinks with a nod to the classics, but short and evolving. Ryan, Brendon and myself have a few drinks each listed.”

But possibly what makes it so distinctly Queensland is its attitude. They take a laidback, democratic approach to door policy that you might not always find in bars ot this calibre.

“We have an attitude policy not a dress policy,” said Baturo. “We welcome people regardless of what they are wearing and it makes for a more interesting clientele and dynamic within The Gresham.

“We created a bar that people could use the want they wanted to use it, not the way we prescribe to them. We don’t promote ourselves as a whiskey or rum or cocktail or wine bar – but we do have all of the best on offer.”

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