The charismatic, innovative publican is going to put up at couple of hammocks in the yard, listen to good music, read from a backlog of more than 30 books and drink cold beer from a couple of his favourite boutique breweries.
Then he and partner Diana Maddalozzo might tour New Zealand. After a while another pub will probably rise on the to-die-for pub site at Mandorah, a stone’s throw from where the city ferry berths. Nick’s not in a hurry to do anything right away.
No, the pub isn’t closing because it has an asbestos problem says Nick. That’s a rumour. It’s just too old with water, sewerage, roof and lots of infrastructure deterioration.
No, he hasn’t been offered $20 million by Kerry Packer. That’s another rumour and a bad one: Kerry died a few years ago. But he has been pleasantly surprised at a recent valuation of the land and is in talks with a couple of hotel groups.
Nick is not in a hurry to make changes too soon after putting his heart and soul into building up a fine pub business in the last five and a half years.
Mandorah Beach hotel was built by Diana’s father in the 1960s and sits on a fair chunk of land near the harbour’s West Point. The first enterprise had a couple of sheds, one with cold scones and the other with hot beer. After that was switched around, the pub passed through a few hands. By the time Nick and Diana moved in it was seriously run down.
They cleaned it up, added a new roof and learned it would cost about $70,000 to put in a new chimney for the deep fryer. They thought laterally and chalked in capitals on the menu: “The No Hot Chips Hotel”. That was destined to become a frequently photographed menu board and Nick was to repeat several thousand times why it was so.
“We decided to do away with deep fried food and concentrate on developing a really good potato salad and coleslaw as the sides. It was healthier and more suitable to the climate.
“A lot of people have been incredulous and one bloke stormed off calling me a bloody wanker but we focused on really good, fresh food and it paid off.
“We didn’t advertise much. We just bought the place and thought ‘Oh well, we’ll open and if people come they come and if they don’t they don’t.’”
They came, attracted by the good food, spectacular views and a range of some of the best boutique beers in Australia. On weekends they have stood 10 deep at the bar soothed by easy-listening music.
Nick makes no apologies for playing Dean Martin instead of Jimmy Barnes. It’s about ambience, family-friendly and cool-down, chill-out time.
“We took out all the poker machines too. We were told we were wankers and would go broke but we didn’t. We wanted to create our kind of pub.”
Nick talks fine beer talk. Common brands are stocked but a big ice chest has chilled bottles of boutique Australian beers that are slightly fruity on the front palate, leave a little bite in the back of your throat or have an earthiness of a classic brew.
Nick worked for the Fred Hollows Foundation in remote communities for 20 years and has developed an easy manner that has served him well with patrons. About 60% come by ferry and about 40% by car from Darwin. Today they will mourn the loss of what has become an iconic pub across the harbour from the city.
The shut-down this afternoon will be low-key. Tony and I plan to make it for lunch, the last meal.
Another pub will materialise on the site. It won’t be the same but it will more than likely have the laid-back di Candilo stamp on it. He is not interested in selling but has a notion about building a new pub and getting one of the hotel chains to run it. We will have to keep an eye on that when we return to Darwin, even if it’s just to see if hot chips are on the menu and Jimmy is on the sound waves. I hope not.