NINE months after closing its doors, Hamilton's Exchange Hotel is reborn.
The Beaumont Street pub opened its doors for a soft launch on Wednesday but celebrates its official opening on Saturday after undergoing a $5 million transformation that includes a complete overhaul of the restaurant and bar areas, as well as the construction of a two-level, state-of-the-art music venue, Live at the X.
Zenith Hotels (who also operate The Beach Hotel in Merewether and Shoal Bay Country Club) pulled together a team of award-winning drink specialists and seasoned chefs to create menus that complement the modernised interior design led by stylist Hannah Brady.
Among those is Brent Tozer, group beverage manager for Zenith Hotels who brings more than 30 years' experience in the hospitality industry to his role in curating the pub's drinks list. There are nine original specialty cocktails on the menu in the new upstairs Swill Bar, including the "signature" smoked strawberry margarita ($19).
"People who like margaritas love a good margarita, but there's a large percentage who want to like a margarita but they don't like the taste of the tequila," Tozer says.
"What we do is we offer a different flavour at each of our venues, so at the Beaches we did a dragonfruit margarita, then at Shoal Bay Country Club we did a peach and mint margarita, and here what I've done is a smoked strawberry margarita."
Fresh strawberries are smoked with hickory to develop a deep flavour, with the fruit blended and strained off to create the juice for the cocktail. The rim is finished with a salt made from dehydrated smoked strawberries.
"We're also quite proud of our espresso martini," Tozer says.
"For our version, the Rolls Royce Espresso Martini, we take the vodka out and use another coffee-based spirit called Patron XO Cafe which is a coffee tequila that's easy drinking, and it doesn't even taste like tequila, really.
"There is something for everybody though - the sweet, the sour - and we serve the classics in the downstairs bar, like mango daiquiris, mojitos, Aperol spritz. I think we have everybody covered."
The wine list includes mostly Australian-based winemakers including the Hunter Valley's Andrew Thomas and Bimbadgen Estate, as well as others from Orange, Adelaide Hills, Mudgee, Yarra Valley, and McLaren Vale. A range of James Squire beers are on tap as well as The Exchange's own summer ale.
"We make our version of a summer ale which we brew down in our cellar. One of our managers is a brewer by trade, so we have that on tap and we will look at changing the profile of that beer every two month," Tozer says.
"We might do a sour beer next and then a dark one down the track. Right now it's a really nice, easy-drinking beer that's perfect for the warmer weather."
Upstairs is also home to The Kitchen, the hotel's new restaurant that offers "pub classics, done well". TV chef and restaurant consultant Phil Davenport designed the menu for The Kitchen which is led by head chef Rupert Fagg.
"We want to re-educate the Newcastle pallet with some amazing food," Davenport says. "The aim with all of our food is for it to be super yummy, super fresh, and only using the best ingredients."
The restaurant area is a bright and light-filled space with plenty of tables, or you can pull up a spot sitting along the marble-topped counter which overlooks the action in the kitchen and the wood-fired pizza oven. There are 10 pizzas on the menu which are prepared fresh using pizza chef Franco Malgioglio's own dough recipe.
On the ground level, the sports bar has a rustic-meets-industrial feel.