After closing for renovations at the start of the year, the Illawarra hotel was finally due to reopen at the end of March.
But, just days before publican Ryan Aitchison was planning the big relaunch, the COVID-19 shutdown order meant all pubs were forced to close.
Now, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian foreshadowing an increased patron limit for June and July, Mr Aitchison is looking forward to welcoming people back into the restored art deco hotel.
Buoyed by the Premier's Thursday announcement that "the government will have more to say on the future of restaurants and bars in June and July in the very near future", he said restrictions allowing 50 or 100 people would be the best scenario for reopening.
"I think [a 100-person patron cap] is that sweet spot so you're not losing money," he said.
"But I am tossing around the 50 mark, because that gives us a rare opportunity to open softly, and also put a spotlight on our food, which was always going to be the hardest thing to tell people as we try to move away from our former reputation as being just that place where you go partying at Retro on a Thursday".
"It was always going to be a struggle to educate the community that that would only be a small part of what we are now, so hopefully that opportunity to highlight our food and day time operations can be an upside to all this."
The biggest positive that I've taken out of all of this, is that people won't take their pub for granted after this. Of all the things people miss, sitting down and having a cold beer with their mates seems to top the list.Publican Ryan Aitchison
Over the past four months, the Keira Street pub - which first opened in 1938 - has been given a significant makeover in and out, with the ground floor transformed back into a "quintessential Australian pub in the middle of the CBD".
The relaunch will drop the "Hotel" from the name, so it's known as just The Illawarra, which harks back to the moniker from the 60s and 70s, Mr Aitchison said.
"We're looking to roll out a traditional pub food menu - so that big plate of food, not over complicated or overpriced and we've gone all in on the sport infrastructure, a stage for live music and the TAB," Mr Aitchison said.
"It's been broken up into areas, and now there's something for everyone - so we're hoping to see mothers' groups come in with their prams, or even the oldies coming in for a schooner of Reschs."
Mr Aitchison is philosophical about the longer than anticipated closed due to COVID, and said he would not rush to reopen until he was sure it would be for good.
"If we had launched the month before, and had to shut down then that would have been catastrophic," he said.
"The biggest positive that I've taken out of all of this, is that people won't take their pub for granted after this. Of all the things people miss, sitting down and having a cold beer with their mates seems to top the list."
The venue first lodged plans with Wollongong council to refurbish and expand in mid-2018, which included an approved but yet to be completed proposal to turn the disused middle floor of the heritage pub into a nightclub and rooftop bar.
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