The George Ballroom is back! The newly restored space, which sits on the first floor of Fitzroy Street St Kilda’s landmark George Hotel, has risen from the rubble after a sad nine-year hiatus.
The opulent building, originally named the Terminus Hotel, was constructed in 1857 to accommodate passengers on the new train line in an era when travelling was often a luxury. The hotel was a destination in itself, similar to taking a jaunt down to Portsea back in the day. The ballroom was added in 1886.
To say the room has a rich history is an understatement! Since its inception, the space has been a tea room, a main dining room and the premier ballroom for society weddings through the 1930s. In the 1970’s it was transformed, with the help of gothic red velvet and drapes, into an infamous hard core punk rock venue called the Crystal Ballroom. Punters crammed in to see Nick Cave, Inxs, Simple Minds, The Cure and allegedly Blondie perform here. The 1980’s rock movie ‘Dogs in Space’, starring the late Michael Hutchence, also filmed within these hallowed walls. Post-punk, the ballroom enjoyed stints as the Seaview Ballroom nightclub as well as an offering by St Kilda hospitality visionary Donlevy Fitzpatrick of Dog’s Bar fame.
And then, like Willy Wonka’s factory, it mysteriously closed for almost a decade.
Like many inquisitive minds, Georgina Damm of Damm Fine Foods wondered what was going on. The catering maestro recalls the situation was “similar to the mythic Flinder’s Street Ballroom – the one you keep hearing about – but no one gets in”. But with perseverance Georgina did get in…only to find rubble, dust and crumbling plaster. Six large ceiling panels had fallen in.
Renovations took six months (the ceiling alone took four of those) with artisans working alongside Heritage Victoria to restore and hand-paint Victorian features such as ornate rosettes, pilasters, brass and etched-glass gasolier lighting, mosaic tiles and satin-glass windows. “This room represents such a varied history. Right here someone had their first dance and some punk rocker probably head-butted someone. I love that kind of juxtaposition, that you can sit in this space and so many things have happened and that there’s a history here,” muses Georgina. As such, rather than making the perfectly shiny and new, the current owners have opted for an antique, aged look for the interior which lends the space a broken-down kind of glamour that speaks to the room’s heritage.
In the new George Ballroom, Damm Fine Food’s head chef Glen Davies will serve evocative dishes such as golden quail eggs with volcanic salt on a seaweed bird nest, poached marron and black truffle risotto with saffron broth and anise-scented duck with liquorice-lacquered grapes. Thousands of future dinner and cocktail party guests (the space can host 150-200 at once) are in for a sumptuous treat. A Salon Room off to the side can host more intimate gatherings.
Georgina is pleased to breathe life back into such a grand space. She soon hopes to introduce the icon to “a whole new genre of guests who haven’t been here before and the ones who have can revisit”. And no doubt reminisce.
Images by David Cook
Ms Chinoiserie Says: Another beautiful event space for Melbourne – so wonderful to see it re-opened with so much love and care!