Hollywood in the Hills

Hood

The Hotel Hollywood sits on the corner of Hunt street in Surry Hills, marking the border between the CBD and the inner city. The exterior is a beautiful curved brick, branded with Art Deco lettering. A strip of metal hems the awning like a reel of film that has escaped time and place to decorate the pub. Inside the bar is affectionately worn, without pretence. You can feel decades of memories lining the walls - a place of community, revelry, acceptance and defiance. 

Forty two years ago Doris Goddard was busy becoming the first female publican in NSW, when she bought the Hotel Hollywood in 1977. She was not unfamiliar with the silver screen, with a film career that saw her appearing alongside Katharine Hepburn, Mel Gibson, Bob Hope and others. The heart of Hollywood was one thing she carried right through her pub, but she also brought something much more potent too — a resolute commitment to people.

The hotel has been there through a range of Sydney’s life events. If you flicked through a timelapse of the city, you’d see the Hollywood standing resolute both before and after the Harbour Tunnel existed, or the Anzac bridge. The Hollywood was there for the opening (and closing) of the monorail, and Doris was there at the helm when the Mardi Gras was first beginning in Sydney. The hotel has seen fashion cycles and laws change, and probably a hundred thousand different little drinking fads come and go too. 

A sign outside declares the pub to be Sydney’s original small bar – and it’s true. The pub’s communal area weaves in restrained pockets of space that encourage huddled conversation and shared experiences. Doris intended it to be this way – it was a sort of shared living room, for whoever found their way there. Plus they operate independently, with owner Mark Symons on-site and pulling schooners. Mark remarks “you don’t see an owner on-site in many pubs these days, and you don’t see many pollys here anymore, they used to come to see what they average bloke was thinking, but people have lost a lot of faith in institutions these days.”

This unapologetic gem has not been without its opposition. Not just from the foot traffic that used to tread more readily along Oxford Street than these side roads of Surry Hills. But the pub has always stood tall against the changing landscape of Sydney’s night-life policies. A politically active woman, Doris marched and protested the Sydney lockout laws, and had lived through the strange span of opening hours of mid-20th Century Australia. Following World War 1 all bars were required to close service at 6pm – a myopic decision that Doris herself describes as “a ridiculous situation”. In true Aussie fashion, this situation was navigated with a sharp surge in drinking between end of work at 5pm and the close of service at 6pm. Doris recalls “they’d get a friend and get 16 schooners lined up and pass them back over the shoulder to their friends” and notes “you had to obey the law whether it was good or stupid”.

That’s part of the charm that’s baked in the Hollywood – the levity of Doris herself, her love of music and her commitment to the everyman. When Doris passed away this year, we lost one of the greats, but the song she started singing is still being sung today. The Hollywood is still here, under the faithful guidance of Mark Symons who has served nearly twenty years at the bar. Live music is regularly booked at the pub, not for any financial gain, but because “the city needs artists” Mark says. The doors are open to everyone without qualification, and they still march for the cause of the city’s night-life. The music is played loud, the beer is cheap, and in a city landscape that continues to change, Hotel Hollywood remains undeterred, a preserved slice of how things can be.

Check out Hotel Hollywood 2 Foster St, Surry Hills