Iain Ling throws us a little history on this Carlton Gem. It’s hot, it’s a vibe, it’s Hotel Lincoln. Slide in below for our chat with this endearing fellow…
Iain, mate, what led you to buy Hotel Lincoln?
I knew it had good bones. I had tried buying it earlier, except the publican at the time was asking for the world. You kiss a lot of frogs when you’re looking at sites. I looked around and I just didn’t have the vision man. I didn’t have the formula to translate it into a successful product, but I always thought I could do it with this place.
You’ve left the bones how it was, so what is it about you being here that’s made this the success that it is? (It’s undeniable that you have turned this place absolutely upside down without touching any of the decors)
We actually returned most of the decor to it’s original state, and undid some of the last guy’s work. It’s about being welcome, and it’s about making sure that you’re comfortable in a place that is not a high-end restaurant… at the end of the day it’s a pub where you can get nice things, feel comfortable and get to a level of just being okay to be here by yourself, in a small group, with your date, your missus, your fella… whoever it may be.
Do you think what you’re doing is an anomaly in hospitality?
I think it’s different from Melbourne at this current point. One of the big problems that I ran up against at the start were the press interviews… They were asking what we were and we didn’t really have a hook to hang our hat on. We weren’t Mexican, we weren’t barbeque, we weren’t trash, we weren’t whatever you needed to be to have a hook for an interview.
You were just good, which I think is amazing and I’ll attest to that.
Looking back at places that I look up to or aspire to be, they’ve all had longevity and they’ve all had consistency, and I think that’s important in a product. I don’t want to have to rethink the product every 24 to 36 months, I want to be able to adapt and grow the product, not rip it up and start again. You can see that happening more and more. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m just saying it’s not for me.
How many beers do you guys have on tap?
We’ve got 12 tapped. One of them is usually cider, so 11. And about 20-30 bottled beers.
And then the wine list?
Jesus Christ, pretty cool for a corner pub. What do people come here for, what’s the vibe?
The thing that’s been on since the start is the spanner crab crackers. So I make little homemade corn crackers, and then we put some crab on with some aioli, shallots… A nice little bite to start your dinner.
Busiest night of the week?
Oh man. Friday.
We call it the school bell. That thing rings and the front bar goes five deep.
Who’s in here?
Everybody. Two years in we still don’t have a demographic. Everyone from the CFMEU to people wearing lanyards rocking the corporate world. Tradies, lawyers, support staff from the universities, locals, it’s cool. It’s all walks of life. It’s Lincoln.
Would you bring a Tinder date here?
Why not? The bar staff are understanding, they can see a bad date going down real quick. We will rescue you.
Will you please tell me how you put on the replays of Bledisloe Cup and convinced drunkees it was live?
We have a certain selection of great sporting moments, a lot of them are New Zealand Rugby moments, and a lot of them are Liverpool Football Club moments. When we are petitioned by certain people to put a sport we don’t want to watch, or they ask us to put on a sport and then don’t watch it, we roll out the classics. For a Liverpool fan, it’s Istanbul… It’s amazing how many people get caught up in the excitement of non-live sport.
Hit me with a little history.
The pub was born in 1854 by a young whippersnapper who came from Lincolnshire, England. He actually built it and then he built another pub around the corner called The New Lincoln, so this became known as the Old Lincoln, and then it’s always been treated as a pub. Around 1940 well, between the two there was quite a strong prohibition movement, and at the time, the exhibition buildings were being temporarily used as parliament, and the guy who owned it spent the equivalent of almost a million dollars to do it up, all the politicians started drinking here. That’s how he dodged getting closed down…
Because the politicians needed somewhere to drink.
Exactly, and then after the Second World War, there was a lot of GIs based around, the owner was really into Abraham Lincoln and got all the GIs in for a few ales. Then later, kind of through the 80s it was quite a big trade union pub, there’s a story about the head of the crew riding a Harley Davidson into the front bar, doing a doughnut and driving out. There’s still a few guys who drink here who can remember that happening, apparently, it was a Wednesday night. So yeah, it’s had many lives, and it’s pretty cool. I’m not really an owner… more of a custodian.
That’s a really cool way to look at it.
Hopefully it will be here a lot longer after we will kick the bucket, and hopefully they will still be sharing those stories.
91 Cardigan St, Carlton