Old scholars reopen North Adelaide’s Archer Hotel

A pair of Blackfriars old scholars is working to breathe new life into a North Adelaide landmark.

Joe (BPS’94) and Ross Calabria (BPS’99) quietly reopened O’Connell Street’s Archer Hotel in mid-March.

That soft opening is about to give way to what they hope will be a huge few days, as the nearby Adelaide Oval plays host to five AFL matches for Gather Round, starting with the Crows and Melbourne tomorrow night (Thursday).

Going forward, the brothers plan to overhaul the historic hotel, including replacing the wraparound balcony and restoring upstairs function spaces.

They have already started work on the little-known library on the upper level which, when complete, they envisage will host corporate functions, wine tastings and more.

Joe (BPS’94) and Ross Calabria (BPS’99) in the library at The Archer Hotel.

Running a pub is a new experience for the brothers. However, they have brought in fellow Blackfriars old scholar Ben Williams (BPS’99) – who has worked in hospitality for many years – to make sure they get everything right in terms of operations and compliance.

The Blackfriars links are also evident behind the bar. Red Hen – created by Michael Vallelonga (BPS’96), Daniel Vallelonga (BPS’98), Anthony Vallelonga (BPS’00) and Luke Page (BPS’96) – is The Archer’s “house” gin.

Those Blackfriars connections are important to the Calabrias, who will also host official school reunions at the hotel. They also have established links to Blackfriars Old Scholars Football Club, where Joe played for a number of years.

“We already owned the building and the tenant’s lease had expired. I sat down with Ross and said, ‘you know what, there’s a bit of an opportunity here’,” Joe said of the decision to reopen the pub.

“Our business (Retail ink) is next door, and that’s still our core business, our marketing business, so it made sense. We’re here anyway.”

The Calabria brothers behind the bar at The Archer Hotel, where there are 15 beers on tap.

Ross said their lack of hospitality experience could ultimately benefit the hotel.

“Obviously, we’ve still got a lot to learn, but not having any experience has also helped in that we are seeing things differently,” Ross said.

“We’ve always done it this way doesn’t fly with us.”

Joe agreed: “This space (North Adelaide) is evolving and changing (and) you can’t run a pub the way it was run 20 years ago. So, I think, our advantage is we can come into this with fresh eyes and do things a little bit different. And that’s our little ace card. So far, there’s been a lot of work, but we’ve really enjoyed it.”

The brothers hoped patrons would feel a sense of community when visiting the hotel.

“Our core values are service. We want to have that personal touch,” Ross said. “We’re here, we’re locals.”

The hotel opened in 1849 as the Huntsman Hotel. In 1960, the building was bought by the Lutheran Church of Australia and used as its national headquarters.

Over the years, it  was also used as a bank and a radio station, before opening as the Archer Hotel in 2003.

Since then, it has opened and closed several times, most recently in January this year.

The Calabria brothers were confident that under their stewardship, with better opening hours and the development of the neighbouring Eighty Eight O’Connell (the former LeCornu site), the pub’s future was bright.

History of the Huntsman

The former Huntsman Hotel is an impressive survivor from the halcyon days of South Australia’s boom of the early 1880s. 

It is typical of the city’s better-quality late-19th century developments, with substantial two-storey form, elaborate stuccoed dressings and contrasting squared sandstone. 

The robust if eccentric detailing to chimney tops and window surrounds, and especially the broken arch pediment with pendant swags, have no counterpart in the city. 

While the structure is of obvious architectural interest, the relatively high integrity of the building and its corner location make this former hotel one of the most visually interesting buildings in North Adelaide. 

By 1960, the hotel had been delicensed and in that year it was purchased by the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia Inc.

The building is of great significance on quite unrelated architectural and historical grounds, the former as an impressively designed ‘boom era’ hotel, the latter as the Australian headquarters of the first united Lutheran church since the very earliest days of German colonial settlement.

Source: Heritage of the City of Adelaide (1996)


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