First they conquered The Duke of Enmore in inner-west Sydney. Now the hospitality supergroup behind the pub's transformation have turned their sights to Waterloo's long-overlooked The George Hotel.
When James Wirth and Michael Delany (under the International Worldwide hospitality group) joined forces with Toby Wilson (Ghostboy Cantina) and Joel Amos (of natural-wine supplier DRNKS) to open The Duke of Enmore in late 2018, they brought good pub-food and what they dubbed "the cheapest fancy pub wine list" to Enmore's main drag.
The band is back together again, this time to transform The George into a three-in-one venue that represents each member's specialties. When it re-opens in early April, The George will be a pub, natural-wine shop and taco restaurant.
They're exercising restraint with the fit-out. Wirth is keen to retain the character of this "old-man boozer", and is keeping the laminated orange counters, olive-green tiles and neon lights of the original pub.
"The pub was built in 1965 and hasn't been renovated since," says Wirth. "The place has good bones, and we don't have a massive budget. We just want to refresh [the pub] and get people to see it for what it is."
The food, however, will be flipped on its head. Out goes the Texan-barbecue menu, and in comes Wilson's Taco King, a diner that promises to serve real-deal Mexican tacos.
"There's a lot of Mexican in Sydney now, and even a lot of Mexican in pubs, but most of it is kind of rubbish," says Wirth. "It's all very mayonnaisey."
Wilson says the tacos will reflect the flavours of Mexico City, researched over four fact-finding missions to the Central American city. "[It will be] much more authentic than Ghostboy Cantina," he says, distinguishing Taco King from the Southeast Asian-flecked flavours for which his pop-up taqueria is renowned.
Diners can expect freshly pressed corn tortillas, a selection of house-made salsas of varying heats, and pork cooked in the central Mexican al pastor style. The meat is cooked slowly on a rotating spit, and is shaved to order.
And the wines? They'll be fun, friendly and all-natural, as per DRNKS' regular remit. Amos says it's difficult pairing wine and Wilson's strongly flavoured Mexican food. "So we're going to offer something 'nice' to drink, with something nice to eat," he says.
He's most excited about The George's onsite bottle shop. "At The Duke, the [takeaway sales] come from a fridge behind the bar," he says. "Here, there's a fully-functioning bottle shop, with a walk-in cooler." He's aiming for a drinks selection that satisfies all budgets, from rare Italian beers to VB longnecks. "Plus with the wines, you can add $20 [to the cost], and drink it in the pub."
The George is quite a project. But with the promise of excellent tacos, natural wine and a pub with character, we're hoping The George will conquer all.
*The George Hotel is slated to re-open in early April at 760 Elizabeth St, Waterloo, NSW, thegeorgewaterloo.com.au