The Breakfast Creek Hotel is arguably the most famous watering hole in Queensland and probably one of the top two or three in the country. It's more than just a venue – it's a major destination in Brisbane, one of the best-loved in the city.
Members of the Cavill family leased the hotel for a long period, more than 70 years, much longer than the traditional period of a hotel lease. Much of the hotel's popularity can be attributed to the stability of these lessees, which allowed traditions to develop and generated the goodwill which is essential to the success of any business.
While it's a pub steeped in folklore, here are some of the most fascinating facts:
It was built in 1889 - in the French Renaissance style popular at the time - by a former Lord Mayor of Brisbane, William MacNaughton Galloway, whose initials appear on the front façade. It opened its doors in May 1890 and was an immediate success.
Galloway remained with the hotel until his death in 1895, after a fall from a second floor window of the hotel (the coroner found that he was drunk at the time of his death). His ghost is said to frequent the original parts of the hotel and staff have reported seeing and hearing him regularly!
In 1900, the hotel was sold to Perkins & Co, brewers. It was the time of the 'tied house' system and the hotel was leased to individuals who ran it on a daily basis, with product supplied exclusively from Perkins brewery in the city.
The hotel changed hands many times between 1901 and 1926, and in the 1920s another brewing company, Castlemaine, acquired the assets of Perkins & Co, creating a new company, Castlemaine Perkins, which became the registered owner of the hotel. Around about the same time, the Cavill family took up the lease and went on to hold the licence for the next 72 years, until 1998.
Alterations to the original design were undertaken in the late 1920s and 1930s, including the addition of the public bar and private bar, as well as an attached cold room. A number of innovations were also introduced in the manner in which food and drink were bought and served.
From the 1920s to the 1940s, two brothels were located where the car park is now and during World War II, American soldiers used to queue up the street, right opposite a school, which caused community uproar until the brothels were removed. The working girls used to drink at the bar and were greeted in the evenings by a resident parrot who cheerfully screeched from the pub's verandah 'Here come the whores! Here come the whores!'
The hotel introduced many 'firsts' to Brisbane - including beer garden style dining (in the late 1940s or early 1950s), the outdoor kitchen where customers could choose their own steaks from a cabinet (the early 1960s) and the drive-through bottle-shop (the 1960s).
The Spanish Garden steakhouse was opened in 1968, and at first served Mexican food, but this failed to gain popularity. Barbecues were introduced the following year, at which time a steak (with Idaho potato wrapped in foil, coleslaw, tomato and a bread roll) would set you back $1.50!
In 1977, a plan to change from wooden to steel kegs was reversed by a petition to the Managing Director of Castlemaine Perkins, Paddy Fitzgerald. The Brekky Creek was allowed to keep its 'beer off the wood' while other hotels changed to the steel kegs. The public bar is named the Paddy Fitzgerald Bar in his honour.
The hotel remained under the ownership of Castlemaine Perkins until the mid 1980s, when it was sold to Austotel, a Victorian-based unit trust. In 1993, it was put up for sale once again, although it was passed in at $7 million and withdrawn from sale. On both occasions the Cavills' lease remained in place. However in 1998, the Cavills' lease expired and the hotel was taken back by Austotel, which in turn was purchased by Carlton & United Breweries.
Heritage legislation was introduced in 1992 and the hotel was entered into the Queensland Heritage Register.
Today, the hotel is owned and operated by the Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group, which in 2003 invested $4.5 million in returning the Breakfast Creek Hotel to her former glory, with a modern twist - a redevelopment project which has won plaudits all round for its marriage of the old and the new.
For many years, the clientele of the Breakfast Creek was dominated by the labouring classes from the wharves at Newstead and Hamilton. Breakfast Creek was a poor area compared to other parts of Brisbane, and many of these workers no doubt lived in the immediate area. Waterside workers and members of the racing fraternity frequently drank there as well. From the late 1960s the state headquarters of the Australian Labor Party was located at Newstead, across the creek from the hotel, in a building called Labor House. Many politicians and party officials invariably found their way to the Breakfast Creek Hotel to have a beer or two with their comrades. At that time, the local Brisbane radio station 4KQ was owned by the ALP as well, and its offices were located in the same building as the Party.
But for many years as well, while catering to its more working class clientele, the Breakfast Creek Hotel has also been the destination for other, more middle class residents of Brisbane, who come to the hotel to enjoy a beer or a steak in the beer garden. The steaks at the hotel have always been notoriously large and have been a marketing feature of the hotel for many years. Greg Cavill developed this and other aspects of the hotel's operations, realising that a hotel could not rely on sales of alcohol alone to survive and prosper. He sought to create a destination point for Brisbane residents. He was willing to try new ideas and to swim against conventional wisdom or what the status quo suggested. New clients were attracted but the original clientele were never forgotten.
The result was a mix of customers, all of whom saw the Breakfast Creek Hotel as a destination. This mix is described quite succinctly in a short chapter about the Breakfast Creek and the Cavills in a book on Australian pubs:
"… it is also a pub with a split personality. In one bar some of the toughest citizens in Brisbane may be observed quaffing their ales, while a few yards away, through a door and beside the outdoor barbecue, solid people of impeccable reputation come to partake of the Breakfast Creek's famous lunch."
The Brisbane journalist Mike O'Connor was a regular patron of the Breakfast Creek in the early 1980s. He describes the public bar full to overflowing on a typical Friday afternoon, with loud and numerous conversations bouncing off the walls of the bar, interrupted only by the noise of the hoisting of another wooden keg on top of the bar. He felt it more like a club than a pub, with its clientele:
"… a disparate, yet harmonious, blend of wharfies, coppers, journos, lawyers, car dealers, bookies, small-time criminals and Labor Party identities, the last a factional group known to all as "the Breakfast Creek Gang'."