The once-derelict Imperial Hotel has been lovingly restored and from tomorrow is open to welcome a new generation of locals through its historic doors.
Located within the historic building once occupied by the 'Imperial Hotel', the new multi-dimensional venue at Clifton will include all-day dining, cafe facilities and a range of lifestyle workshop classes, celebrations and meetings.
The Imperial at Clifton is owned by The Shellharbour Workers' Club and executive officer Debbie Cosmos said the historic restoration - which cost somewhere between $10 million and $12 million - was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"We've breathed new life into a historic Illawarra building and I couldn't be prouder of the result," she said.
"The venue will offer a bespoke hospitality experience that is unlike anything the Illawarra has seen and it's finally time for the community to make some new memories within the walls of the iconic building."
As you enter the building there are nods to the past in every room.There is original orange tiles on the walls, brickwork and repurposed timbre floors that now line entrance ways.
Old lighthouse lights have been used and there is a mural that pays homage to previous owners Ruby and Jack Hargrave.
There is also an original cellar door that shows stairs that lead to an old bar.
Subtle notes of a bygone era also line the walls with old newspapers and old bottles, uncovered during construction, now proudly displayed.
The front verandah, timber staircase, decorative arches and five fireplaces have also been restored to their original glory.
The hotel was built in 1911 and was a popular watering hole for locals but closed in 2003.
Local residents Jodie and John Dunning, who live across the street, have been eagerly watching the progress of the construction and were impressed with the finished venue.
Mr Dunning said the building had been restored in way he had hoped and he loved the historic elements.
"We are feeling positive about living close, as an older couple, we are going to utilise the hotel," Mrs Dunning said.
"I won't have to cook as much and we will definitely get our 7am coffee here. We think although there will be noise, as is to be expected in a venue like this, that's not a bad thing. It is never going to be boring."
Tracey Pascoe said venue had been "wonderfully restored" and loved the wood and brickwork used.
"I have a Christmas party booked in December and another separate girls lunch so I will definitely be frequenting the establishment," she said.
Shellharbour Workers Club president Mark Climo said it was great to have people back inside the building, eating food and drinking.
He said while it had been a frustrating journey it was exciting to transform the premises.
As the process went on, like any restoration, we came across problems that we didn't know about ...
"We knew when we bought the building it hadn't been operated as a venue in 15 years and we knew it was a heritage listed building, and dilapidated in parts," he said.
"As the process went on, like any restoration, we came across problems that we didn't know about. But we had great builders who did a wonderful job.
"At the end of the day we are very proud of what we have ended up with. We have tried to keep a real note to the heritage, past and history.
"We are calling it a new chapter because it is a whole new beginning and we have tried to put modern touches to it."
Mr Climo said his favourite part of the venue was the main bar with the fireplace and also on the lower floor where the treasures found during construction are displayed.
He encouraged people to explore the venue as much as enjoying the food and beverages.
There is also space for events and weddings on the upper level.
"We want to make the venue a destination and for people to enjoy their stay and the offerings," Mr Climo said.
"We are thrilled to give the locals back what was once here," he said.
"We want people to reflect on the past if they used to come here and see the new venue now.
"We have been amazed by the level of interest from people in the northern suburbs, Sydney and down south, especially the members of the Shellharbour Workers Club."
He also said the impact of the pandemic had pushed back the opening date from June and they had to retrain staff.
There have been about 300 bookings made in the next three weeks but people are welcome to walk in for breakfast, lunch and dinner without a reservation to eat, drink and see the venue first hand.
General manager Michael Heslin said staff had been trained for the past month to prepare them for the busy rush and any teething issues, and they have the support of staff from Shellharbour Workers Club.
He said his favourite meal on the menu was the seafood tower as it had local produce and also the salt and pepper squid.
There are a couple of local breweries from Wollongong and Thirroul on the drinks list and wines from the Southern Highlands, as well as signature cocktails with a twist.
The venue is also accessible with a lift and there is a shuttle bus that will take people to and from Helensburgh to Thirroul, and it will also deliver picnic hampers.
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