How to bring a pub back to life: The Rochester Hotel


The Rochester Hotel
202 Johnston Street, Fitzroy
Story by Sam Bygrave

How do you take an old, somewhat tired pub, and make it new?

If you’re the people behind The Rochester Hotel, you strip everything back and factor in some crabs.

“We took over the old Rochester mid-last year,” said general manager and co-owner, Stuart Moss. “We spent six months pretty much ripping everything out and started again.”


The result? You’ve got yourself one great-looking neighbourhood pub.

“Once we stripped the walls back we found all this amazing old brickwork and fireplaces that at some point had been covered,” he said. “We took the ceiling off and found beautiful exposed beams. Same for the carpet: [there were] old timber floor boards we just couldn’t ignore.

“The place needed a lot of love when we went in which is part of the reason we stripped it all back and started from scratch,” he said.

Plenty of thought went into the refurb, said Moss.


“Originally we thought about moving the old central bar to one of the back walls, however we found that some of the framework was structural so we left it as it was and decided to embrace the archways.

“The one thing that worried me was that we weren’t going to have a really visible back bar to show off. We had the idea of the back bar framing the inside of the archways which has actually ended up working really well. The brass drip tray finishes it off really nicely,” he said.

Despite the renovations, Moss said that they’ve maintained a link with the old venue, The Rochester Castle Hotel.

“We are essentially a rock and roll dive bar, incorporating live music and DJs over the weekend,” he said. “There is an element of the old grungy Rochester, especially in the music, however we have stepped up the offering, with a really solid, well chosen drinks list in the bar.”


Add to that a rotating selection of cocktails in the bar (expect classics like the Boulevardier to sit on there amid twists on classics), and a healthy selection of craft beer, and you’ve got a pub with a new lease on life and an emphasis on fun.

“Our emphasis is really to offer an amazing experience without all the pretentiousness,” he said. “No one takes themselves too seriously. I think it shows in the service and we have had a really good reception so far.”

They’ve stepped up the food as well, with co-owner Katie Marron of Katie’s Crab Shack moving in and serving up crab boils and fried chicken. Marron counts Movida and Eau de Vie Melbourne on her resume.

Marron and Moss are joined in the business by Brigitte and Jon Costelloe, themselves no strangers to the hospitality game (they own The Aviary, Vic Bar, and Dr Morse).

What’s on the menu?
Chef Katie Marron gained quite a following in Melbourne when Miss Katie’s Crab Shack was in residence at the Public Bar in North Melbourne. And it was there that the punters would come for her crab boil and fried chicken, and these two items have made the trip to Fitzroy’s The Rochester Hotel.

But that’s not all that’s on the menu: There’s a Louisiana vibe to the offering thanks to the sides of corn bread, crab cakes, and the Cajun chicken cobb salad.

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