Richmond readies as Tavern tops a ton

Updated June 15 2022 - 2:35pm, first published June 14 2022 - 8:00am
Publican Bill Perry ... "look after your staff, your customers and the bottom line looks after itself". Photo: Morgan Hancock
Publican Bill Perry ... "look after your staff, your customers and the bottom line looks after itself". Photo: Morgan Hancock

In Richmond, a city of well established watering holes dating back towards the middle of the 19th century, the celebration of a centenary of a hotel should be small beer, if you can excuse the pun.

However, it is a different story with the London Tavern, a hotel that has sat proudly on the corner of Lennox Street and Richmond Terrace since November, 1921.

At its heart is an unassuming owner and licensee, Bill Perry, one of Richmond's best known identities. It has been said before that Bill is as much like a pastor, ministering to the needs of his flock, as a publican tending to other spiritual needs.

He is a listener, and is as much a part of the community as the people he serves. Across the bar, there is always a shoulder to lend support.

The son of hoteliers from Wodonga, Bill runs the London Tavern as country pub in the middle of Richmond. He sees it as a community asset, a place where people can meet, talk business or sport, and where locals can come together for a conversation that can be as therapeutic as any tonic issued on prescription.

Bill says he didn't set out to create the country vibe. "It just happened, Richmond is very much like a country town," he says. The locals are like country people and very loyal. If someone hasn't been seen for a while they will mount a search party to ensure they are okay."

The Perry family has strong football ties to Richmond, although Bill played a few games for North Melbourne, a fact he doesn't talk too much about.

"Richmond is very special to us," he says. My uncles Gordon and Doug Stran played for Richmond and ran a hotel. Gordon ended up in the Team of the Century as a centre- half back and Doug kicked 14 goals in his second game as an 18-year-old, which is still a record. When we bought the hotel, the locals straight away accepted us as part of the fabric of Richmond."

Bill is the longest holder of the London Tavern licence, purchasing the freehold in 2000. He has worked out that he and his family have poured more than 27.3 million beers, calculated on kegs per week and the number of glasses in a keg.

He needs to be working his abacus each day, as in May the hotel poured 27,000 cold beverages and prepared, on average, around 5000 meals.

But a hotel is more than statistics. It has a heart, and at the London this is provided by Bill, his wife Marita, general manager Gina Cimarosti and their staff.

His formula for running a hotel is simple. Look after your staff, look after your customers and the bottom line takes care of itself.

Bill regards his staff as extended family, a feeling that also is imbued with his regulars.

He greets his customers as he walks through the hotel, and will have a brief, convivial conversation . "People want to have their own conversations without me interrupting." he says. With new clients he often asks what brought them to the London Tavern and thanks them for choosing to have a drink at his hotel.

Other than that, Bill likes to fly under the radar.

"I tell customers that they should be happy if they do not see me. That means that the beer is cold, the meals are good and the plumbing is working," he says.

Bill, being the type of bloke that he is, defers to the input of Marita and Gina - who shares his views on running hospitality - when talking about the hotel.

He says the London has the heart of Phar Lap, but it had been operating on one cylinder during restrictions, and Gina has got its pulse back.

Gina came to the hotel in 2020 at Bill's instigation. During COVID, many lost their jobs or were stood down. Gina was one of them. An events manager for one of the AFL's foundation clubs, she was stood down at the height of the restrictions that year.

Bill heard about this, and rang to offer her a job, she thought, to pull beers as a casual. The job was as general manager of the hotel, and he her gave her the freedom to run it.

As a result, Gina never returned to event management and is relishing her job at the hotel. "I'm here for one reason, and that is Bill Perry," she says.

The COVID-19 pandemic provides an insight into how Bill operates. He managed to keep the hotel partially operational, doing takeaways, when many had shut their doors completely. Profit, though, most certainly was not the motivation.

Marita and Gina had encouraged Bill to open a coffee window through which beverages could be served and meals picked up during the restrictions. He had held off on the investment, because he did not know how long the family would have to draw down on its resources.

When Bill relented, he saw it became a beacon for locals in the days of social distancing and lockdowns, allowing periods of interaction when there was precious little available. "If you just looked at the cost effectiveness, you wouldn't have done it," he said.

On grand final day 2020, Bill put the word out that he would be serving drinks, hamburgers and sausages from the window prior to the game. The locals came out in force - as did up to 15 police tactical response vehicles.

Richmond readies as Tavern tops a ton
Richmond readies as Tavern tops a ton

Bill explained to officers that there was nothing illegal in what he was doing, but police still insisted the crowd be dispersed.

"The police told us there were too many and they weren't social distancing ," Bill said. "Let me talk to them, they are all locals and they'll be gone in five minutes," he told them, concerned that a heavy police hand coming face-to-face with pent-up frustration could lead to confrontation.

"I knew it was near game time, and that everyone would be going home to watch the match," he said. "Which is what happened. We closed and the police left, but I am glad we did it. We made everyone feel normal for a few hours and able to say gidday to their mates after being locked up for weeks."

During the restrictions, there was one elderly customer who appeared regularly at the hotel to warm himself in front of the fire and enjoy a glass of shiraz. "We couldn't tell him that we weren't open for trading, because he was mute. We just let him sit by the fire away from staff and have his drink."

Bill also was concerned about the well-being of his customers, several of whom were getting on in years and had been stricken with the virus. They were surprised to get a call to say 'meals on wheels' was stopping by - a meal prepared by the hotel's kitchen. "The joy a simple thing like that brought was just remarkable," he said.

"But don't put that in," Bill urged. "Every day we do something, but people don't have to know."

The celebrations for the centenary, now close to a year late because of Covid, will be held in January. Gina is planning to transform the dining room into 1920s speak-easy, tapping into the history of the hotel site, which previously was home to a wooden shack that operated as sly-grog.

There will be many from the community who would like join in to pay homage to a hotel, the publican and the staff that has made it a local institution. As well as suppliers, like CUB state general manager Tim Powell, who regards Bill as mentor to many and a legend of the industry.

Bill says that it is location and the customers that make the hotel, not the publican. "You won't see anything like the London Tavern in Hawthorn or South Yarra," he says.

To that extent he is right. Clientele go to those establishments for different reasons, so the vibe is totally different. It isn't Richmond and they don't have Bill Perry.

Richmond readies as Tavern tops a ton
Richmond readies as Tavern tops a ton

Ian Moore


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