New hotel owners aim to ‘get old girl firing again’

Raglan’s historic Harbour View Hotel may have new owners from out of town but don’t expect it to focus more on pulling in visitors than catering to locals.

Auckland 40-something Fiona Gates, who with partner Paul Irwin bought the iconic pub late last year, says the Harbour View would have been the centre of the community when it was first built 160-odd years ago “and we want to recreate that environment”.

Less than two months on the couple have already begun “getting the old girl firing again” by reintroducing live music, creating new menus and planning a full weekly calendar of events.

Fiona says finding a beautiful old hotel for sale in the heart of Raglan was too good an opportunity for her and Paul to miss despite the difficulties presented by the Covid pandemic.

She describes it as having been both a challenge and a leap of faith in unprecedented times, the whole process drawn out by the difficulty in undertaking due diligence amid fluctuating lockdown levels.

But she insists there were never any second thoughts and that she and Paul  “just wanted to get in there and get going” with their plans for the pub.

Fiona points out she’s no newbie to the pub game and that she has spent many years in the hospitality sector in New South Wales and in Victoria. “It is a complete passion of mine,” she reckons.

Fiona reveals too she has experience running “big old venues” not unlike the Harbour View, among them Sydney’s heritage-listed The Exchange Hotel in the suburb of Balmain and the Alexandria Hotel in Merrivale.

Along the way she has also picked up ‘hotel of the year’ and ‘small business of the year’ awards.

More recently she and Paul have been working in the corporate world in Auckland, both having held national senior management roles in the past.

“Together we are a great team,” Fiona says, “and share a vision to bring out the soul of this venue”.

Among their first steps they’ve sourced some historic pictures from Raglan Museum and displayed them on the Harbour View’s walls, and from this month are hosting  quiz nights every Tuesday.

The aim is to eventually have a full Monday to Sunday schedule of activities targeted principally at the Raglan community.

There’ll be a members’ badge draw, for instance, on Thursdays so as not to clash with Raglan Club’s Wednesday and Friday draw nights. “We don’t want conflict, we want to add to the community,” Fiona insists.

Meantime a new ‘Bloody Mary’ Breakfast Club brunch menu has proven popular, as have 

‘Summer Sundays’ live music sessions in the garden bar with local talent and other musos on board.

Following community interest there are even plans for the hotel to host a classic car event, but that wouldn’t be until  next year.

Feedback to the various initiatives has been great, Fiona adds.

The couple spent the whole first month of takeover at the hotel implementing changes, but have most recently been commuting from Auckland at weekends while looking for rental accommodation in town. However they say they have full confidence in the “really great team” running the hotel, most of whom have been retained since taking over.

They single out general manager Valentina Pigozzo – “a fantastic operator” – and new head chef Tracey Cornes as being particularly valuable in now driving the venue forward.   

Today’s Harbour View downtown is the second rebuild of this iconic hotel, dating back to 1905 after its predecessors – the original pub in 1866 and the next in 1901 – burnt down.  

BY Edith Symes