ADELAIDE CITY IN 1918 had 59 hotels in its west end and 48 in the east end. Hotels had always survived and thrived from the earliest days of the colony, in parallel to the opposition from Adelaide’s strong community of Protestant church-going teetotallers.
The hotel was critical to local social life, much like a club where friends regularly met, business was done and jobs negotiated. Games such as billiards, skittles and cards were played along with illegal gambling and betting.
Each hotel had its own regulars often with snappy nicknames and its swag of funny, tragic and absurd yarns, as well as venues for fires, murders, suicides, tragic accidents, robberies, fights, unruly parties and police raids.
Horse-drawn transport, informal letterboxes, job agencies and accommodation were provided by publicans to keep regular customers. Many hotels had their own sporting clubs for cricket, football, golf,darts, skiing and eight ball. Publicans often organised outdoor events in their grounds or nearby sports and competitions such as wrestling, cricket, football and shooting matches, horseraces, and English fetes. Hotels also became for unusual exhibits such as tigers, elephants, snakes, large vegetables and mineral samples.
Before the 1860s, hotels were rarely larger than about eight or nine rooms. Despite this, balls and dinners were accommodated. Men’s societies and clubs met regularly at hotels The Sir John Barleycorn (later Hotel Rundle) at 85 Rundle Street advertised more than 20 meetings there each month. These meetings were halted in 1916 when six o’clock closing were enforced.
Hotels were also used by the government for several purposes. They became polling booths for elections until 1857. Because hotels usually had large cool cellars, they were occasionally requisitioned by law for inquests between 1839 and 1908.