Grand Central Hotel

Ghosts of evenings past - Lithgow's Grand Central Hotel in the early 1900s 

Lithgow is generally not considered by either Australian or international tourists as a destination as such.  A small town 131km west of Sydney, its population appears to have peaked at around 21,000 and its major claim to fame in the last fifty years is undoubtedly its stunning victory in the 1997 NSW Tidy Towns program.  In the words of the Lithgow Tidy Towns Committee

After several successful years in the Tidy Towns program, Lithgow has been named 1997's overall NSW Tidy Towns Winner

The award is a culmination of 10 years hard work by the Lithgow Tidy Towns Committee, which has fulfilled a major objective of changing perceptions of Lithgow as a sooty coal mining town. joins the committee in its self congratulation. 

In fact, it was partially to test Lithgow's claim as a tidy town that chose to send me to evaluate one the several pubs that appear in its short main street:  the Grand Central Hotel ('the Grand Central').   

The first thing the Grand Central has going for it is a double bed.  However, be warned - they only have one.  So get in quick and be prepared to pay that little bit extra - at $50 per night (including breakfast), you wouldn't want to be doing this every day of the week. 

The second thing the Grand Central has going for it is its location. Two hours away from Sydney, it is situated smack bang in the middle of the Blue Mountains - home of some of the most beautiful scenery in Australia.  It's tough, but someone has to live there. 

The three sisters - drop in on the way to the Grand Central 

According to the Greater Lithgow City Council, the town is 'Steeped in History - Renowned For Friendship'. I are pleased to report I can confirm both claims, at least in relation to the Grand Central.  After being pleasantly surprised by the clean state of my room, I followed  the sound of raucous laughter and music down the main stairs and into the bar.  Within moments of plonking myself down a cheery barmaid whose name turned out to be Julie wandered over and asked me what I would like to drink.  While this would be an easy question for most Aussies, to the highly trained reviewers it is akin to asking a pauper how he would spent a million dollars. So many choices.  

So naturally I turned the question back on the local expert, and asked he what she recommended.  

Julie and Georgia serving Lithgow and the reviewer

As it turns out, the Grand Central Hotel is quite proud of the fact that it serves Guinness - it is the only pub in the whole of Lithgow to do so. Although I was loath to insult my host, it didn't really seem right to be downing a Guinness on the job, so instead I ordered a Toohey's New and made every effort to clear my palate in anticipation. 

The beer was icy cold. Excellent. The night had started well.

It wasn't long before Lithgow's 'renowned' friendliness was becoming evident, and I was soon engaged in light banter with the bloke sitting next to me. Before I knew it, we had started buying one another a few beers, and 'Barry' was delighted to have found someone with an interest in his beloved Lithgow.  He happily told me of Lithgow's history, and how it all revolved around the railway and coal. Railway and coal.  They had been the backbone of the town for the past century, and every one of its residents knew it.  However, tears welled in his pudgy eyes as he informed me of the recent closure of the coal mine - with 6,000 of Lithgow's 21,000 residents being sacked as a result. A disaster.  What were they to do. It was all a bit too emotional for a weekday, and so I shouted him one last drink before inching my way down the end of the bar.

And just as well I did, for as tends to happen in small town pubs, I chanced upon the bosses' wife - Lynne. 

Lynne Cassidy enjoying a drink in her pub

Lynne was also quite happy to chat about the pub and Lithgow.  Her and her husband, Kevin, had worked in the Sydney hairdressing industry for 35 years before deciding to take a punt and buy a pub in a country town. Every man's dream.  So how were they finding it? 

Well 18 months had past and things were going fairly well.  Kevin had struck on the idea of having a Harley Davidson competition - essentially boiling down to the more you drink the greater chance you have of wining it.  And with the bike itself located in the bottleshop next to the pub, the locals didn't really stand a chance: they flocked to the Grand Central in droves.  So business was going fairly well.

And the lifestyle? It could be tough. It was great knowing the locals, but every day the beds had to be made, and the toilets cleaned. That could get tough after a while.  On the whole though, they hadn't looked back.  But I should really talk to Kevin about it. 

And so I did. After waking up the next morning feeling that I had gotten to know the Grand Central a little too well, I made my way down the bottleshop to have a yarn with Kevin. He was a very genuine man, and was happy to talk about his pub.  It was old, he knew that much, dating back to at least the last century. He didn't know much more of its history that that, except that the wonderful balconies had been removed some time in the last 100 years - the locals didn't know when exactly. Some said during the war. Some said earlier. Either way, it was a terrible shame, and it was Kevin's quest in life to get them restored to their former glory.  

Lithgow's Grand Central Hotel in the early 1900s

The balconies can be clearly seen in this old picture. Note also the building on the right has 1888 clearly marked on its side.  Although the balconies have gone, pretty well everything else is the same, as evidenced by a 1999 photo. 

Lithgow's Grand Central Hotel in 1999

So the old buildings still remain - with even the 1888 building standing unchanged. Just the magnificent balconies have gone. Kevin has applied to the council for permission to put them back on, and obtaining that should not be a problem. The real difficulty is funding.   The Heritage Council may help out - but there are no guarantees about such things.  Well, for what it is worth supports his cause.  As the photos demonstrate, those old balconies were part of the character of the town, and the town would be well served with their return.  In the days of old, the streets and balconies would be packed with people celebrating the "Festival of the Valley". What would they think if they knew their pub had been vandalised so? It's time for the balconies to be returned. 

My final question for Kevin was whether there were any sordid tales worthy of an review? Well, said Kevin scratching his head, there was an old barmaid that conceived her child on the stairs leading up to your room in the 60s (about two seconds walk from the bar).  That's about it. She still drinks here, incidentally.

A worthy tale indeed.

Worth a visit - tell them sent you

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