Bill Bell, owner of Bell’s Hotel, Melbourne’s only brewpub, inherited the place from his parents, who purchased the pub in 1933. He vividly remembers the bad old days of Australian drinking—when pubs (until the early 1960s) were forced to close at 6:00 p.m. and customers would chug four or five pints before being required to leave at 6:15. And he’s happy that today’s more discerning Australians want something better.
Today’s Bell’s Hotel is twice as large as the pub Bell’s parents owned. It’s also a place where lots of groups regularly show up to have fresh beer.
Bell started the brewpub, he says, “to have a bit of fun, and give people a different kind of beer.” For years, Bell and his brewers made do with makeshift dairy equipment; the mash tun, for example, was once a bathtub. But Bell’s beers have been winning lots of prizes lately, including two gold medals at the 1999 Australian International Beer Awards.
Lots of groups call Bell’s Hotel home, but the place especially attracts fans of Australian football and motor sports groups. Bell’s is home to the Melbourne fan club for Port Adelaide Power, an Australian Football League team. Power fans (and a few injured players) packed Bell’s Hotel from 8:00 in the morning until midnight watching the Power lose their quarterfinal match. Several car clubs are so attached to Bell’s that their membership plaques line the walls.
Bill Bell’s support of car racing has landed him in controversy. In 1995, the Australian Grand Prix was held in Melbourne for the first time, and motor sports fans flocked to the brewpub. They first had to cross a ring of protesters. Bell’s response was to create a beer called “Black Ban Bitter.” It’s been part of his portfolio ever since.