It's been a long time between drinks at all pubs - but even longer at The Illawarra which closed in January for a major renovation that was stretched out further when the COVID-19 shutdown kicked in in March.
With hotels now allowed to serve drinks almost as usual (with some extra restrictions), the inner city hotel reopened on Monday, serving Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery the first beer in the refurbished public bar.
Cr Bradbery said the reopening marked an important milestone for the city, as its struggling retail, hospitality and service industries start to recover from the shutdown period.
He said the renovated hotel, which has been fitted-out to resemble the original art-deco establishment in an effort to shake off its former reputation, reminded him of the traditional pubs of his youth.
"It's remarkable to see the place being brought up to a higher standard," he said.
In recent years, the council has invested significant energy in trying to encourage a healthy "night time economy," with Cr Bradbery saying food and entertainment venues would be a key part of bringing money back into the CBD.
Since May 15, hotels have been allowed to open for dining for up to 10 people, but the new June 1 rules mean hotels like The Illawarra can have up to 50 patrons in each of its rooms and that people can simply go out for drinks without needing to buy food.
With the renovation, there are now three main parts of the hotel: the front public bar, the courtyard bistro, and a small wine bar and function room at the back.
Under the NSW Public Health order, group bookings must be kept to 10 people and the hotel will be open for lunch this week, until Friday when it opens fully.
Nikki Aitchison, who is heading up the updated hotel with her husband Ryan, said she hoped the hotel - which has been rechristened The Illawarra (not Hotel Illawarra) - would become a more "traditional Australian pub" than its previous incarnation.
"I've always worked in beautiful old heritage listed buildings in Sydney's Inner West, so I was immediately attracted to this building," she said.
Moving to Wollongong we saw that this city didn't really have a traditional pub, so we wanted to turn this back to the type of pub it was in its glory days.Nikki Aitchison
"Ryan and I met working in a pub, and moving to Wollongong we saw that this city didn't really have a traditional pub, so we wanted to turn this back to the type of pub it was in its glory days."
The new bistro, which has a menu boasting pub lunch specials and other Aussie food standards, will be a centrepiece of the operation, which the Aitchisons hope will attract quite a different clientele to those who only know the hotel for its sticky floors and 'Retro' nightclub.
"It's not a nightclub, it's not about that lifestyle any more," Ms Aitchison said.
"It's for families, functions, you can come in to the TAB or go and have a really good pub feed at the bistro."
The duo has approval to renovate the middle and upper floors of the hotel, with plans for a roof top terrace bar and accommodation rooms in the works.
"This venue has a lot of potential," she said.