The old Palace has been serving-up beer in Sydney for over 150 years: Local Taphouse, Darlinghurst

Palace Hotel Darlinghurst 1931 B ANU
Palace Hotel, Darlinghurst 1930. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.
The Local Taphouse, Darlinghurst, 2018. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.

Palace Hotel, Darlinghurst


THE Palace Hotel was first licensed in December 1878.

Currently a craft beer pub, specialising in Australian brews, the former Palace Hotel, at the corner of Flinders Street and South Dowling Road at Darlinghurst, is now known as the Local Taphouse.

When I visited this Sydney pub, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. In fact, I expected little. I’ve never been a big fan of exclusive craft beer pubs. I prefer pubs that offer a choice.

How wrong I was. With two other blokes, I sat in this relic from Sydney’s hard drinking past, soaking the atmosphere, and enjoying an ale or two.

The barman was helpful, suggesting what beer would suit my taste, serving-up various taste testers, before I settled on my dark top-fermented ale. I enjoyed my visit to the Local Taphouse, it contradicted all what I expected.

I equally enjoyed researching the history of this atmosphere filled pub.

The unusual wedged shape double storey, brick building was established by Thomas and Bridget McNamee and it remained in that family for over 70 years before it was bought by Tooth and Company brewery in 1952.

An Irishman, Thomas McNamee married Bridget Frost, the daughter of the owner of a Wollongong pub – the Cottage of Content – in 1865.

Bridget had arrived in Sydney with her parents and five siblings in 1851 before the family made their way to Wollongong, on the NSW South Coast. There the family prospered, with Bridget’s father, William a successful businessman.

Thomas arrived in Sydney in the early 1860s and after his marriage to Bridget the couple established various business ventures in and around Surry Hills.

Palace Hotel Darlinghurst 1948 anu
Palace Hotel, Darlinghurst 1948. Picture: Noel Butlin Archives, Australian National University.

The McNamees first hosted the Britannia Hotel at Redfern, before later taking the reins of the Surry Hills Hotel. They hosted the Surry Hills Hotel at the corner of Crown and Campbell Street (Later known as the Oriental Hotel, and now trading as Rosie Campbell’s bar) from 1874 to 1877.

The McNamees purchased land on the corner of what was then Botany Road and Dowling Streets the following year, and built the Palace Hotel. They licensed the building in December 1878.

The McNamees leased the Palace Hotel to Thomas O’Byrne, who soon landed in strife. He was hauled before the magistrates in May 1880 to answer charges that he was a drunk, and he kept a disorderly house.

O’Byrne declared to the magistrate that he had taken “the pledge” and was now off the grog. The magistrate gave him a caution, and allowed him to continue as licensee.

Two months later though O’Bryne transferred the license of the Palace Hotel to the owner, Thomas McNamee.

McNamee hosted the Palace from 1880 to 1883. He had been successful in business and amassed sufficient wealth to retire at the age of just 42. With his wife, Bridget they settled into life in their villa, Clifton Lodge in Paddington, where Tom also continued as an alderman on the local council. But he was not to enjoy a long retirement, and he died at the age of 48 in September 1889. Strangely his wife, Bridget died at the age of 43 the following month. They left 10 children.

During the last couple of years before his death McNamee was in bad health, and although the attack of illness which killed him was sudden, he was, according to newspaper reports well prepared for the end.

The main bar of the Taphouse, Darlinghurst 2018. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.

Another devout Irish Catholic couple, Denis and Anastasia O’Neill took the reins of the Palace Hotel in 1891. They had married in 1889, and went on to host the pub for almost a decade before Denis also died at an early age.

Denis took over the pub from his brother-in-law Thomas Barlow at the age of 28. His wife, Anastasia at the time was 39.

Anastasia was a native of County Wexford, Ireland, and came to NSW in 1887. When Denis fell ill during the late 1890s, they obtained leave from the licensing courts to travel to Germany to undergo treatment for his failing health.

Finding he was beyond medical aid, on arrival in Germany he left for Ireland, where he longed to end his days. He saw little of the beauties of the land of his forefathers, for death followed shortly after disembarking. However, he was surrounded by family on his death bed at his brother-in-law’s residence in Ballyconnell, County Wexford, Ireland, on Saturday, August 26 1899.

Anastasia travelled back to Sydney, and took up residence at the Palace Hotel, where she came to an untimely death at the age of 55 in 1907.

On the morning of March 8 she was cleaning a pair of gloves with benzine, when the gloves she was wearing were ignited from a nearby candle. Her clothes also caught alight, and she was severely burned about the arms and neck. Despite treatment, she died at the Palace Hotel from the severe burns.

The McNamee family continued ownership of the Palace Hotel until 1952 when it was sold to Tooth and Company. It continued trading as the Palace Hotel until 2007 when it closed for business. The following year the old pub reopened as the Local Taphouse, specialising in craft beers.

Brothers James and Josh Thorpe bought the pub from the Melbourne owners early in 2017. They’ve retained the impressive beer list, which includes 20 ever-changing beers on tap, matched with a cosy atmosphere, complete with vintage lounges, old bookcases and empty bird cages.

Most of the pub’s original character has also been retained. For those who love their pubs, this place should be added to your ‘bucket list’.

The Local Taphouse, Darlinghurst. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.
The Local Taphouse, Darlinghurst. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.
The men’s urinals hark back to another time at the Taphouse, Darlinghurst. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection.

© Copyright Mick Roberts 2018

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Categories: NSW hotels, Publicans, review, Reviews, Sydney hotels

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