Updated: May 10, 2018
Perhaps one of the most iconic pubs in the Hunter, Wollombi Tavern has a rich history, full of stories and even some secrets, when it comes to the hotel’s infamous Dr Jurds Jungle Juice.
New owners Chris and Cathie Books purchased the venue in December last year and say it was the unique history of the pub, along with its pivotal role in the small village of Wollombi, that caught their interest.'
“We’re from Sydney but we have a home here in Wollombi,” Chris explains.
“We’ve lived here for about three years, still spending three days a week in Sydney, but it wasn’t until we bought the pub that I think we were really considered locals.”
Local patrons with new owner Chris Books (second from left)
“We’ve lived here for about three years, still spending three days a week in Sydney, but it wasn’t until we bought the pub that I think we were really considered to be locals...”
Chris describes Wollombi as a close-knit community, with the pub at the centre of pretty much everything.
“Before buying it, my wife and I used to come here and we would inevitably end up chatting about all the things we’d do with it if it was ours. Then four months ago the opportunity to buy the place came about and we knew right away that it was something we wanted to do.”
While the pub is well-known destination for weekend car and motor cycle clubs, Wollombi Tavern also plays a pivotal role raising money for the community, as well as a number of non-profit organisations.
“The beauty of this place is that its land can accommodate a number of activities, from car shows to tug-o-wars, camping and festivals,” Chris says.
“One of the commitments I made as a new owner was to ensure all the community traditions kept going. "We are on eight acres here and that in itself is unique. There are a lot of pubs that can accommodate a large number of people inside, but not many that have that much space outside.”
"There are a lot of pubs that can accommodate a large number of people inside, but not many that have that much space outside..."
In addition to holding events such as the upcoming Kiss Goodbye to MS - a car show and tug-o-war event, the annual woodchop, lantern parade, and music festival are regular fundraisers held at the hotel, along with ANZAC Day, New Year’s Eve fireworks, and charity car and bike shows.
Wollombi Tavern also offers free camping onsite all year round for travellers and those participating in local events such as the Dirt Bike Camp Out and Wollombi Carp Clean Out.
Relatively new to the industry, Chris says the importance of the hotel in relation to the community and these kinds of events was a persuasive reason for the couple’s purchase.
“Look, this is not a pub that was ever going to make someone rich,” he explains.
“It’s iconic to travellers and it’s important to this community, but I think it would have been a hard to sell to anyone who was looking for a hotel to make money with.
"For us it was about making sure it was in safe hands and would continue to play an integral role in the Wollombi village.
“Plus, you know, I think it’s every man’s dream to own a pub. I have worked behind the bar before, but while I’m on a steep learning curve, running a business is running a business and I have run successful businesses for the past 30 years. I’m a friendly person, I’ve kept all the staff on, and it’s really about being a part of the community.”
"For us it was about making sure it was in safe hands and would continue to play an integral role in the Wollombi village..."
While the hotel has a small weekly patronage of locals, over the years Wollombi Tavern has attracted a contrasting bustle of weekend tourist trade thanks to the scenic route that leads to the hotel and its famous in-house beverage Dr Jurds Jungle Juice.
“Dr Jurds was really popular and hit its peak back in the 80s,” Chris says.
“And while it’s still popular now, back then it had a real mystic about it. But we still sell a lot, even by mail, sometimes up to 50 packages per week.”
While the ingredients of Dr Jurds was once a well-kept secret, we now know it was the brainchild of local resident and original hotelier Mel Jurd, after returning World War II soldiers shared with him stories of the ‘jungle juice’ they had consumed overseas.
“Back then jungle juice was the term for a concoction of really any alcohol you could get your hands on, all mixed up together,” Chris says.
“So Mel came up with a brilliant idea. Back then this was a wine bar, and so at the end of the night they would get all the remaining alcohol left in the bottles and mix it all together. The story is he would mix it all up in his bathtub and then rebottle it. That was what he originally called Dr Jurds Jungle Juice.”
"At the end of the night they would get all the remaining alcohol left in the bottles and mix it all together...That was what he originally called Dr Jurds Jungle Juice..."
Thankfully, today’s version is a little more evolved using a recipe of fortified wine and brandy, bottled by Drayton’s Wines and sold exclusively by Wollombi Tavern.
“This place is full of history and as I said, it plays a central role in the village here. It would be the largest local employer and is probably the drawcard for most weekend visitors,” Chris says.
“Right now we are doing some repainting and trying to return the hotel to its roots, as it was in need of some work. But we want to make sure it stays as true to character as possible.
“At one point it was getting quite modern and that’s not what Wollombi Tavern is about. It’s warm and rustic, inviting and familiar. And it’s a place I’m hoping to stay for at least the next 10 years.”