Interior Design: Joanna Karlilaoff
AV: Almost Anything Audio
Pubs have done it, and as Randwick Rugby Club is about to prove, clubs can do it too. After a glamorous renovation, this nearly 50-year-old club has emerged revitalised and new, set with a bold vision for the future: to change our notion of what a club is and leave the run-down RSL firmly in our past.
Dubbing itself the new ‘gastro-club’, Randwick Rugby Club’s overhaul began with a change of look – warm timber flooring replaced old carpet, while luxurious ottomans and sleek fittings took the place of outdated decor. “We wanted somewhere people could walk in, feel at home and just have a good time,” describes John Dowling, club CEO of the new look. “It’s modern, yet wonderfully casual; a perfect compliment to our beach surroundings.”
With a new restaurant opened, including a bistro and an elegant cocktail bar, the revamp of the rugby club has been more than cosmetic. The new fine dining venue, Brook St Kitchen & Bar, led by industry-acclaimed London chef Neil Pass, has a firm goal to become the first one-hatted ‘club restaurant’, spearheading the way for a higher standard in service and quality of food for clubs in Australia.
“It’s a bold thing for a club to do because no one has ever done it,” says Dowling. “But we’ve brought in the industry’s best to help us get there.”
The impressive list includes Alexx Swainston, cocktail consultant to Australian Gourmet Traveller, as well as a provocative wine list from award-winning sommelier, Nick Hildebrant of two-hatted Bentley Restaurant & Bar.
Despite the refurbishment, Randwick Rugby Club hasn’t lost its roots. Maintaining a sense of its past, the new look venue is as much for existing members as it is for the urban, professional crowd, now a steadfast part of the local community. At the club, old-fashioned values of personalised service – a place where bartenders know your name – will meet incredible wines, fantastic food and a chic setting.
“There aren’t a lot of boutique venues in the area like there are in Balmain, Glebe and Paddington,” says Dowling. “But we’ll be doing one better – the gastro-club.”
Like the original trophy cabinets in the entranceway guiding the way to the refurbished lounge, Randwick Rugby Club brings together the best of both worlds – the old and the new – and in turn, gives the industry a much needed shake up.
“I didn’t want a ‘wow factor’ because I think that fades,” says John Dowling. At the same time, its confident, sleek interior design turns the idea of the ratty run-down RSL on its head. “Many people around my age drink in pubs but not clubs. I want to get them back here.”
The restaurant, led by acclaimed London chef Neil Pass, was the first to get a major overhaul. With a new name and a fresh look, Brook St Kitchen & Bar, the club’s signature venue, features communal banquets running along the walls, accentuating the sophisticated design and intimate feel. The venue also includes a modern bistro, teeming with light and a seductive cocktail lounge out back adorned with rich fabrics and layered textures.
“We’ve used an inviting palette of colours,” explains Joanna Karlilaoff, head of interior design for the grand-scale operation. “Obviously, the look is more up market, but we wanted to incorporate the beach surroundings and keep the venue casual yet elegant.”
Within, timber has been used to replace much of the old carpeting, and elegant light fittings have taken the place of outdated decor. However, the original trophy cabinets in the entranceway and aged plaques harking from a bygone era still remain. “With any sort of refurbishment, the aim is to give it a new look, while retaining some of the existing elements and maintaining the same basic layout,” say Kalilaoff. “We’ve just given it a modern spin to make it a place where people would want to hang out together or enjoy an intimate night with great food and excellent wine.”
Where old meets new is a good description for the new look Randwick Rugby Club, who’s plans to steer the club away from the traditional gaming image and create a new identity as Sydney’s premier gastro club, was never a question of loosing touch with its roots.
Clubs are doing it tough,” acknowledges Dowling. “While rhetoric’s being thrown around, a lot of clubs are going broke.” Seizing the need to change, Randwick Rugby Club is charging ahead with arguably one of the most ambitious refurbishments – both skin-deep and full of heart – this country has ever seen.