Hahndorf was once known for its nightlife, when pubs opened ’til late on weekends and the Old Mill Hotel would book touring bands and pack its voluminous venue space with upwards of 1000 punters.
As times changed, late-night Friday and Saturday patronage fell by the wayside as Hahndorf businesses instead focused on catering to the regular Sunday pilgrimage of Adelaide crowds chasing coffee, brunch and wine tastings.
John Meek and his family saw an opportunity when they became aware that the lease for Hahndorf’s historic Old Mill Hotel was on the market.
John, who is best known for operating the Woolshed on Hindley, partnered with his wife, Denise, and daughters, Renae and Sherie, to purchase the business in February this year.
The building was “tired” and in need of refurbishment, but John says he was impressed by the building’s heritage charm and sheer size.
“It has beautiful marble bar-tops and it’s been done really well. I thought it would be great if we could breathe some life into it and get it going again,” says John.
“The licence doesn’t permit it to be a nightclub, but it can be a night-pub. It’ll be music, eight-ball and a bar.”
Six new pool tables have already been installed, and the Old Mill’s largest space is currently being fitted out with a new bar, fireplace and sports bar.
A quirk of the new space will be a DJ booth repurposed from the chassis of a Mini Minor.
The new managers intend to create a more inviting main-street entry to the hotel, with the doors to be flanked by Model T Fords on display.
The new-look hotel will officially relaunch on April 9, but is still currently open during renovations.
The Meek family operates three of Hindley Street’s biggest nightclubs, The Woolshed, Downtown and Blackbull, and has previously run other regional hotels, including the former Dundee’s Hotel and Wildlife Park at Murray Bridge.
Renae says there are no plans to turn the Old Mill into a nightclub, but rather to create an atmosphere similar to other suburban hotels that cater for a late-night crowd with regular DJs and a sports bar influence.
“The Hills does need a night meeting place after you’ve had dinner,” says Renae.
“You’re often not really encouraged to stay around at pubs unless you’re just sitting at your table talking.
“I think the Mill will become a place where people can go and listen to music and have another drink.”
After the challenging past year, the Meeks had no intentions of adding to their property portfolio.
When the coronavirus hit they sold their farmland holdings for security and say they “just wanted to survive”.
Their first hotel The Ranch Restaurant was established just outside of Murray Bridge in 1981, and was rebranded as The Oasis Disco and then Meeky’s Hotel.
They then moved the hotel into the Butterfly House under the name Dundee’s Hotel and Wildlife Park, which had crocodiles and other animals.
The Mill was established in 1854 as a steam mill producing flour, and it wasn’t until 1971 that it became a German-style restaurant with motel unit accommodation at the rear.
The hotel still offers accommodation, but the Meeks have not yet announced any plans for that space.
Late-night trading will commence from May, when the venue will open until midnight weekdays and until 1:30am on weekends.
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