Manager Ben Addison with beer and lunhctime guests. Photo: Angela Wylie
LAWYERS, bankers, beers and the ghost of a bitter mistress - welcome to the Mitre Tavern, one of Melbourne's oldest pubs.
The heritage-listed building at 5 Bank Place will go to auction next month as the owner, property investor Ian Hicks, seeks to diversify. But the lengthy lease to the pub's operator will remain.
Mr Hicks bought the building, which also boasts a steak restaurant upstairs, for $6.3 million in 2008. Estate agent Kristian Peatling said he is quoting more than $6.5 million for the August 10 auction, given the 15 to 20 per cent increase in income that now sees the owner collect $430,000 each year, plus GST.
''There's no other pub like it,'' he said. ''There are still timber beams and flooring that date back to the late 1800s.''
The City of Melbourne lists the Mitre as the city's oldest building. Parts of it date to 1837 but a refit in 1910 was largely responsible for its ''old London pub sort of look'', manager Ben Addison said.
Now there is barely room to breathe on a Friday night in the beer garden as the financial and legal fraternity meet on neutral territory between Queen and William streets to schmooze, booze and put finishing touches on negotiations.
''There are definitely deals cut,'' Mr Addison said. In the '80s, he said, the House of Lords restaurant upstairs was awash in silver trolleys and three-piece suits. But that was before the introduction of the fringe benefits tax.
''You couldn't claim your lunches any more. You could, but you had to pay a fringe benefit on it and that became very expensive. It just changed restaurants and dining in the Melbourne CBD in the early '90s in a big way.''
Lore has it that these walls witnessed the birth of hardware company Mitre 10, but they also saw a death.
Connie Waugh once lived at the Mitre as the mistress of Sir Rupert Clarke, whose father Sir William built the building opposite, which later became home to the Savage Club.
The story goes that Ms Waugh hanged herself after Rupert returned to his wife and she may have plotted a haunting return of her own.
Drew Sinton, the owner of Melbourne's Haunted Bookshop, runs walking tours of the Mitre, where he said four managers have seen Connie's ghost.
''Louise was doing the accounts upstairs about 7 o'clock on a Monday night,'' he said. ''She felt a cool breeze on the right side of her face. She turned around and she saw a black shadow on the balcony.''
He said others described ''a cocoon of light'', and ''a woman in a flowing white dress''. But all accounts involved a woman singing.
Mr Addison said he has been lucky so far, but he takes precautions. ''I've never seen it, but I don't like being here after midnight by myself,'' he said.
The only spirits present yesterday were on ice. The Age spoke to a group of engineering contractors who after 20 years have finally found a time to have a beer in peace.
''We find Wednesday lunchtimes the best, nice and quiet,'' Vince Brincat said.
But there's a catch. ''Some engineering companies have a zero alcohol policy,'' Mark Marasco said. ''It's not as crowded as it used to be.''