14 Oct

No Pokies, No Swearing, No Vacancy: 160 year old Elms Family Hotel Closing

Melbourne’s Central Business District won’t be the same come next year. As generations of classic, family owned businesses have given way to modernized developers, the Tierney’s have held strong to their ownership of the Elms Family Hotel on Spring Street. But after owner Basil Tierney passed away last year, the family finally decided it was time to move on.

The Elms Family Hotel has been in the Tierney family for 35 years. Basil and his wife Veronica, now 89 years old, ran the hotel and its iconic bar all that time. The tragic loss of Basil sent the new matriarch scurrying for help, and the family wasted no time in responding.

For the last year, three generations of Tierney’s have been working hard to keep the hotel up and running. The bar is a popular destination for locals, but with no pokies on site—something Basil was adamant about, along with a firm no-swearing policy—bringing in enough customers to cover expenses was getting harder and harder.

Elms Family Hotel, Spring Street Melbourne CBD

With the support of her family, Ms. Veronica Tierney made one of the most difficult decisions of her life, choosing to sell the Elms Family Hotel to local real estate developers. The doors will stay open for business through 2015, scheduled to close in January.

Understandably, Ms. Tierney is having a hard time coping with the impending loss of the family’s 35 year old business. “It’s just going to be traumatic,” she told local media. “It’s going to be an upheaval.”

Veronica and her late husband have been residing in the hotel ever since they took over the business in 1980. Up until Basil passed away last year, Ms. Tierney was personally attending to the accommodations, making the beds and tidying up the rooms herself.

When Veronica found herself widowed, two generations of Tierney’s rushed to help out, including her daughter, Genevieve Tierney, and 19 year old granddaughter, Erin. They are all now residing at the hotel and doing their fair share around the establishment.

Ms. Tierney fondly remembered how much their customers adored her husband. He was “loved by everyone”, she said.

Basil had two very strict policies at the Elms Family Hotel, and would not break them for anyone, or any amount of prospective profits.

The first was his no-swearing rule. “I remember a couple of builders came in once and they were swearing,” Veronica recalled. “Basil said, ‘no swearing here, my wife’s in the kitchen‘.”

The other policy was against poker machines. When the Tierney’s first bought the place, he made a strategic decision not to install pokies, and he stuck to it throughout the years. “His friends all said he was mad,” Ms. Tierney explained. “’Get the pokies, that’s where the money is’, they’d say. But he just wouldn’t.”

The youngest of the Tierney family, 19 year old Erin, has been helping out behind the bar for the last year, and is not looking forward to the transition either. “This is home for me,” said Erin.

Having grown up around the hotel, she recalled some tender memories of her own, including her life-long friendship with ‘Little Joe’, one of Elms’ regular patrons. “Little Joe held me as a baby for the first time here in the bar,” Erin remembered.

Little Joe has been frequenting the hotel since 1975, before the Tierney’s took over ownership. When she came of age to drink alcohol, Little Joe had her first sip at this very bar, and made a point to return for her retirement party many years down the road.

“Trying to find a pub like this in the city is not going to happen,” said Little Joe, now 58 years old. “So we’re going to have to settle for second best.”

Sadly, the Elms Family Hotel’s axiom will be inevitably extended when the doors close for the last time in January of next year; ‘No pokies. No swearing. No vacancy.