Hotelier Charles Osbourne commissioned Brisbane architect James Furnival to design the Osbourne Hotel. The hotel opened in 1864 and was the second Hotel to open in Fortitude Valley. Its design is a gentle nod to the art deco era, the Osbourne standing proudly at home on the corner of Ann and Constance Streets.
Now, under the experienced hand of long-time owners the Fitzgibbons family, the hotel has been reborn, with serious nods to the original and tribute paid to the 153 years of tall tales and colourful characters that have graced her bars!
Some interesting names have hung aloft the door – The Dead Rat, The Rat & Parrot and more recently, Fringe Bar and Kerbside – and some interesting characters have shared a sip, from the infamous Painters and Dockers in the 1970s, to Bjelke-Petersen pollies and punters, to fashionistas, and foodies of modern times.
Past names will go down in the history books now, because the hotel has taken back its original moniker as she gently calls to Brisbane that the heritage hotel experience is well and truly back.
In the 1970s, The Osbourne was known for being the home of the notorious Painters and Dockers Union. And didn’t this bring some colourful characters to the bar for a pot! Back then, notoriety surrounded the Painters and Dockers with corruption closely following their name in media reports and stand-over tactics allegedly a standard operational procedure.
There is the famous story of the day a man was shot dead in the public bar in 1972. In the resulting coroner’s inquest, some Painters and Dockers union members who were at the hotel at the time were called to testify. Predictably they had seen and heard nothing unusual.
One man testified that he was fishing a fly out of his beer at the time of the shooting, while another claimed that he was returning from the bathroom and was struggling with his zipper. A third said he was watching the first bloke try and get the bloody fly.
The Fitzgibbons family bought The Osbourne Hotel in 1980 from Castlemaine Perkins, and even then it was for good reason – Brian Fitzgibbons Snr, knew and loved the hotel as his favourite watering hole during the war, when he worked in the Naval Stores at Teneriffe. With the next generation coming through at this time, Brian (Jnr) 30 years of age at the time was set the challenge to run The Osbourne (Brian Jnr was also behind the success of The Glen Hotel, which remains in the family still). A major renovation was undertaken with new areas created; the restaurant was named Bahama Palms, the private bar was called the Jungle Bar and a drive-in bottle shop was approved by Brisbane City Council at the rear of the hotel. The family even rolled out the red carpet to the kerbside for patrons and had girls in red bikinis serving drinks on roller-skates.
But change was coming to the Valley, and the Fitzgibbons’ saw it, welcomed it and supported it.
After a renovation in 1992 a competition was run to rename the hotel – enter The Dead Rat Hotel! From this, it became the Rat & Parrot and then in 2003 a new era dawned with the launch of Fringe Bar. It was a cool bar for city crowds, music lovers and race-going fashionistas, a direct reflection of the rejuvenation of Fortitude Valley.
The hotel life is in the Fitzgibbons’ DNA. The family have been running pubs since 1936 when Brian’s grandfather Michael took over the then Kirrabelle Hotel in Coolangatta. They have since welcomed patrons at flagship pubs at Eight Mile Plains, Toowoomba, Southport, Maroochydore, Loganholme, and in Brisbane, starting with one of the front-runner hotels of the city’s pub trade of the 1940s and 50s, The Daniell.
Over what is now four generations, this family has remained staunch definers of the word ‘hospitality’ – which continues at the Osbourne.