The Story of The Ambassadors Hotel
In early 1841, a new building was erected on King William Street to house a Public House called the “City Arms”. It was one storey tall, with stables and stockyards.
The liquor licensing laws at the time stated that the publican was required to provide for “a traveller and his horse, a traveller without a horse, the horse of a traveller not becoming a guest of the house, or any corpse which may be brought to his public house for the purpose of a Coroner’s inquest”. Any publican not providing such a service was committing an offence and liable to be fined up to 20 pounds.
The front bar was made of Tallow and gum with kegs of Porter and Rum on top and gambling tables in the main bar.
There were three penny pints and a schooner was called an ordinary. Horse races were conducted along King William Street with first place winning a Sovereign and second place, a gallon of Scotch.
In 1873, the hotel was renamed Lloyds Coffee House, taking over the licence of the City Arms and incorporating part of the Savings Bank Building.
It was reported during that time that, one night, the Publican was enjoying the hospitality of one of the chambermaids (whether with her consent or not was not reported) when, under the influence of a good portion of the night’s profits, he tried to strangle her. She proceeded to stab him and was consequently brought before the Magistrate and charged with attempted murder.
The publican was praised for surviving this “unprovoked” attack.
The results of the trial were not recorded.
In 1882, the premises were remodelled adding two stories and the name changed to United Service.
Balls and Banquets became the norm and the hotel earned a reputation as “The place to be seen” by the well-to-do citizens of the time.
The United Service remained until 1931 when the house was again re-modelled and renamed, this time to The Ambassadors Hotel, which remains to this day.
From the 1930’s and through the World War 2 years, the hotel was a favourite destination for country visitors from all over South Australia and Broken Hill, with Service personnel meeting before deployment interstate and overseas.
Downstairs, in the basement (known locally as The Coalhole), the regulars quietly placed their bets with the resident SP (Starting Price) Bookmaker and listened to the races on the radio while enjoying a beer and a steak (the first “counter meals) at the bar, which stretched the length of the basement. The hotel operated Monday to Saturday, closing at 6pm, as did most hotels in Australia, due to the pressure from the Christian groups, known as the Temperance Leagues, restricting the sale of all the alcohol.
These restrictions were enforced from 1916 to 1976 in South Australia (the last state to change these laws) when 10pm closing was introduced under the pressure of Don Dunstan.
During the 50’s and 60’s, the basement was a popular meeting place for many men from the offices of the surrounding city area. Women were not welcome in public bars until the late 70’s.
There was always a large gathering at 5pm at the end of the working day for the hour before closing.
One story of the time told of a father placing his young son on the bar and instructing him to “give us a tune Johnny”. The boy sang of the crowd received cheers and applause from them.
The boy was reportedly, John Farnham, who later become a great recording artist.
The employees of the Advertiser and The News (Adelaide’s evening newspaper for many years) made The Ambassadors their “local” with reporters spending a good portion of their afternoons on Balcony Oyster Bar on the first floor overlooking King William, Street, while writing their columns.
There have been numerous stories of the ghosts of The Ambassadors, but the most persistent is the story of “Mary” who apparently worked as the Supervisor in the Dining Room in the 1950’s. Living in the hotel, even after retirement, she died at 91 years old. It seems Mary is a friendly ghost and is often seen by both staff and guests wandering the first floor and dining room.
Quite a few groups from the Army and Air Force held their passing out dinners in the hotel dining room and even today, The Ambassadors Hotel still sees the last of these same men reunite for Anzac and Remembrance Day each year.
The personnel from the ship HMAS Australia meet once a month in the dining room at lunch time and have done for a number of years, although their original number is rapidly diminishing now,
The 2nd/48th Battalion were the most decorated soldiers during the second World War (including a Victoria Cross recipient) was made up entirely of South Australian boys.
Those remaining still meet at The Ambassadors monthly and on Anzac Day each year, have a luncheon for 60-70 people comprising of returned servicemen, family and friends.
During the 1970’-80’s the hotel saw many changes to its clientele due to the influx of the suburban hotels and changes to drinking laws.
With the advent of gaming machines in the late 80’s the focus again changed with incentives to patronise the venue including $7 meals which included a glass of beer, wind or soft drink and $5 in coins to spend in the gamin room.
These days, the gaming laws are such that it is against the law to offer any incentives to keep patrons gambling.
Through its life, the hotel has seen quite a few licensees come and go, with each imprinting either minor or major changes to the interior, though no one has altered the elevator which is the only electric lift still operating in South Australia for public use. It has manually operated doors and reminds people of the original brass gated lifts of a bygone era.
The latest licensees have slowly been refurbishing the guest rooms and the basement, known now as the Ambar Lounge.
They would like to recapture the old-world charm of the original premise as demonstrated in the Marble Bar situated on the ground floor. A cosy bar with chesterfields, an eclectic arrangement of chairs, lamps and prints reminiscent of grandparents sitting rooms.
In the beginning of the 20th century there were 11 hotels between North Terrace and Victoria Square in the city of Adelaide, but now the Ambassadors’ Hotel is the sole remainder, still offering affordable, comfortable accommodation, meals and bar service all in a family friendly style setting.
We no longer offer stockyards and stabling as a standard, but anything is possible if requested and “Mary” may still visit if you are lucky.