A Gilded Fish at The Rocks

Fish at the Rocks Sign

(image courtesy of Out4Dinner)

Sydney in spring. Tonight you dine alone.
Walk up the Argyle Cut to Argyle Place
And turn left at the end. In there you’ll find
Fish at the Rocks: not just a fish-and-chip joint
But a serious restaurant, with tablecloths
And proper glassware. On the walls, a row
Of photographs, all bought as a job lot
By a decorator with a thoughtful eye:
Big portraits of the racing yachts at Cowes
In the last years before the First World War.
Luxurious in black and white as deep as sepia,
The photographs are framed in the house style
Of Beken, the smart firm that held the franchise
And must have had a fast boat of its own
To catch those vivid poses out at sea:
Swell heaving in the foreground, sky for backdrop,
Crew lying back on tilting teak or hauling
On white sheets like the stage-hands of a classic
Rope-house theatre shifting brilliant scenery –
Fresh snowfields, arctic cliffs, wash-day of titans.
What stuns you now is the aesthetic yield:
A mere game made completely beautiful
By time, the winnower, whose memory
Has taken out all but the lasting outline,
The telling detail, the essential shadow.
But nothing beats the lovely, schooner-rigged
Meteor IV, so perfectly proportioned
She doesn’t show her size until you count
The human hieroglyphs carved on her deck
As she heels over. Twenty-six young men
Are present and correct below her towers
Of canvas. At the topmost point, the apex
Of what was once a noble way of life
Unquestioned as the antlers in the hunting lodge,
The Habsburg eagle flies. They let her run,
Led by the foresail tight as a balloon,
Full clip across the wind, under the silver sun,
Believing they can feel this thrill for ever —
And death, though it must come, will not come soon.
– ‘Meteor IV at Cowes, 1913’, by Clive James 2009

Fish at the Rocks Sydney

Not every seafood restaurant can claim to be immortalised in verse. In fact, Fish at The Rocks is the only one I know of. It’s been a fixture of Kent Street for many a year, with its plate-glass windows shedding a warm light onto the footpath on many a dark evening.

Fish at the Rocks at night

Carved & Gilded Fish Sign

(image courtesy of John Bodin)

Technically, Fish at the Rocks isn’t at The Rocks at all, but just around the corner at Miller’s Point. The large brick building of which it is a part, was constructed in 1919, as a ‘commercial facility’ – a few shops for the growing suburb of Millers Point. The construction was paid for by the shipping companies, for whom money was no issue. In those years, sixty percent of Australia’s growing international trade made its way through the Sydney wharves. Some of the older locals remember a butcher shop behind the plate-glass.

Fish at the Rocks

By the nineteen-fifties, it had changed to a corner shop, and was doing a brisk trade with the many dock workers. It was famous for it’s ‘Aussie Burger’. In 1967, fish and chips were added to the menu, and business-people from the city could be seen rubbing shoulders with the blue-collar clientele in the small take-away. It had a reputation for the ‘best and freshest seafood in town’. In the subsequent years, Fish at the Rocks expanded their menus (they even make profiteroles), added function rooms upstairs and seating downstairs and, like any self-respecting business, they purchased a hand-crafted sign. Several of them, actually. Owner, Paul Tate tells a few more details:

I guess being here for so long helps to get known. We have always striven for quality over ease of production. For example we’ve always avoided frozen and pre-packaged products. Good customer service is a part of the culture here, and we’re probably a bit more personal than some places.

Chalkboard Menu Lettering

Lettering the Chalk Board

Before it became Fish At The Rocks in 1988 it was called ‘Bob and Di’s’ – primarily a take-away with all the usual hamburgers, et-cetera. Some of the older locals tell me that it was a butcher’s shop before 1950.

Referring to the house profiteroles, the Sydney Morning Herald once wrote; ‘Chefs must be working quickly as the pastry remains slightly crisp, providing a satisfying contrast with the filling.’ When I asked Paul about these, he answered:

The profiteroles were introduced to the menu quite a few years ago. They have proved to be very popular, we did take them off the menu for a time just for a change but put them back on due to popular demand. They are made with the classic French choux pastry. We change the variety of ice-cream filling from time to time but they essentially stay the same.


Profiteroles from Fish at the Rocks. (image courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald)

Still the same, and as popular as ever – a good analogy for the establishment as a whole. With plans to stay put for many more years, Paul invested in hand-carved & gilded signs.

We chose your hand carved signs to replace our old and tired vinyl sign because they are in keeping with the heritage and style of the area. They also stand out and reflect the quality of Fish At The Rocks.

Gilded Hanging Fish Sign

Our sign for ‘Curry at the Rocks’ can be seen in the background.

Gilded FIsh Logo

The Fish Logo, Hand-sculpted & gilded

And what about the poem by Clive James?

Somebody pointed the Clive James poem out to me a few years ago. It’s nice to know we inspired him enough to write a poem! Maybe I should get it framed and put it up on the wall , do you think I would need to get permission?

For Fish at the Rocks, I’m sure Clive wouldn’t object!

A Sign for Cremorne Point Manor

Painting of Sydney Harbour

‘Sydney Harbour from Cremorne Point’, a painting by Fred Marsh (image courtesy of Marsh Studio)

There is nothing regular about the shape of Sydney Harbour. Actually, it hardly seems a harbour at all, but more of a ragged conglomeration of sharp headlands and deep inlets, each with a name and character of its own – Balmain, Drummoyne, Woolwich, Mcmahons Point… One peninsula which lies like a sharp finger, pointing south toward the bustle of the city, is Cremorne Point.

As any Sydneysider knows, the point is a place of grand old mansions and leafy streets that seems undisturbed by the happenings of the past hundred years or so. Along Cremorne Road, sails and water can be seen over the red-tile roofs of the houses below. On the other side of the street, steps lead upward to the large, stately residences above. One such is Cremone Point Manor. Clearly old, yet lovingly restored, this pale blue building has operated a guest house since the late nineteenth century.

The hotel is believed to have been built in the late 1880s, when a coal seam was discovered in Cremorne. Fortunately, the plan to mine the seam was scotched, thanks to stiff opposition from locals. Cremorne Point Manor has been a guesthouse for about 50 years – Lex Hall, Weekend Australian

‘Most delightfully, as night falls we can hear the sound of [Taronga] zoo animals squawking (monkeys, I think). Later I’m sure I hear the roar of a lion settling down for the night.’ – Sydney Morning Herald

Owner, Jean-Claude Branch tells us more about the place:

Jean-Claude Branch

‘Although drinking coffee is a regular part of my job, sitting down is not!’ – Jean-Claude Branch, owner of Cremorne Point Manor

We’ve traced the history of the building and as far as we can work out it was built around 1911, as a guest house. It’s been continually used as one ever since. It was originally called ‘Redcourt’, due to the clay tennis court on the left of the building. Long since having been built onto, it’s now the only commercial premises in Cremorne Point and one of the oldest continually run hotels in Sydney.

Old Ad Sydney

I’ve attached a photo from 1927 showing the building. Note the fancy addition of ‘Electric light’. Something we are proud to say we still have (amongst other improvements). – Jean-Claude Branch

Today, we have twenty-nine rooms and are rated by AAA as a four-star guest house. in 2010 we won the best renovation for New South Wales (HMAA) and for the past three years have achieved a ‘Certificate of Excellence’ from Trip Advisor.

My background is actually in property development and seven years ago I thought I’d see if I could run a hotel. Since then it’s been a labour of love and something that I love to do. A funny thing I noticed when I first started running the hotel which in hindsight seems pretty obvious. We never close. So, it means we need to ensure someone is available for our guests anytime day or night. It’s quite a logistical issue.

Cremorne Point is one of the most exclusive peninsulas in Sydney. houses are generally in the five to ten million range and it’s easy to see why. The view from Cremorne point is spectacular. During the new years fireworks its standing room only on the point. It’s an eight-minute ferry ride into the city, past the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, so it’s the best and cheapest Sydney Harbour tour one can do.

Sailboats in Sydney Harbour

The View over Sydney Harbour from Cremorne Point (image courtesy of Stayz)

Sydney Harbour Ferry

The Sydney Ferry approaches Cremorne Point (image courtesy of Walk Sydney Streets)

The hotel used to have a flat sign, but I noticed the Danthonia signs on another hotel – I think it was the City Crown Hotel on Crown St, Sydney – and asked the owner about the product. I did originally balk at the price, but the quality is superb and it really matches the facade of the building. I actually have three signs. I originally ordered one and then a couple of years later I upgraded with the other two. The people who design and construct the signs are superb at what they do.

Gilded Hotel Sign in Sydney

Carved Signs by Danthonia Designs

‘I wanted to create a hotel from my experiences around the world. somewhere that is both comfortable and homely, and somewhere where we don’t charge for every extra.’ – Jean-Claude


Cremorne Point Manor Sign

The first sign that Jean-Claude purchased from Danthonia Designs

Cremorne Point Manor Sign

Our guests often sit in our front yard. and I didn’t want to have them looking at the plain back of the sign. I also didn’t want to advertise to guests who are already there. So I looked up quotes and found this slightly tongue in cheek quote was a great addition to the sign. We often get comments from the guests how they love the place and it’s like home, hence the quote.

george bernard shaw quote on sign

The back of the sign.

Cremorne Point Manor Sign

The front and back panels of the main sign, photographed in our workshop.

Due to the style of the building being a heritage listed federation building, our guests want to have a lovely homely feeling when they come. We often have guests who have been coming for decades and what we strive to do is ensure that we stay modern and up-to-date with amenities, while still providing a lovely homely atmosphere. The balconies and small courtyard are lovely environments to relax and one of the secrets of Cremorne Point is the spectacular harbour-side gardens that you can walk through while admiring the views of Sydney.

Balcony Cremorne Point

‘A throwback to English country hotels, guests congregate on a large upstairs balcony with peaceful views across the water.’ – CNN Travel (image courtesy of Seana Smith)

There is also Macallum Pool which is a free council pool with views of the opera house and Harbour. Something that is loved so much by the locals it’s not uncommon for the signs to the pool to be taken down to stop people finding the place.

Maccallum Pool

‘Cremorne Point deserves to be walked around every day of your stay; it takes about 90 minutes at a trot…. You can cool off afterwards in MacCallum Pool, which was opened in the 1920s as the Cremorne Bathing Pool and significantly upgraded in the 1980s. You can swim in the Harbour while gazing across at Fort Denison and the Opera House. Isn’t that a Sydneysider’s definition of Heaven?’ – Sydney Morning Herald (image courtesy of Swim Sally Swim)

It was a pleasure to craft the signage for a place with such history and character. Thankyou, Jean-Claude for taking the time to tell a little of the story behind the sign!

Cremorne Point Manor at Night


A Sign for Gritty McDuff’s

Carved sign for Maine's Oldest Brew Pub

A Handcrafted sign swings in the Atlantic breeze in Portland, Maine (image courtesy of Short and Stout Slurrings)

If you would stroll down the cobbled streets of ‘Old Port’ – the historic district of Portland, Maine – perhaps you would walk beneath a rustic, oval sign bearing this inscription; ‘Gritty’s: Maine’s Original Brew Pub’. Walk through the door and you may feel – as many have before – that you are stepping into a earlier era.

Stained Glass Window in a Pub

Light glows through a stained-glass window (image courtesy of Pub Talk)

When you enter Gritty’s, you feel like you have entered a seaport tavern that may soon be filled with privateers and fisherman who have just stepped off their schooners and walked up from the docks to spend their hard-earned, if not always honest, loot… It sits in the historic Old Port section of this seaside city and is practically a landmark in itself.
David McBride

Grittys Brew Pub Portland Maine

(Image coutesy of Fried Green Savannah)

Gritty's Breew Pub Maine

(image courtesy of Maine Roots)

Beer Taps

‘The decorative beer taps in a New England bar are a sight to be seen’ – Todd Sweeney

Gritty’s is Maine’s oldest brew pub since prohibition, and the city of Portland has a rather colourful history from that era, as Tom Bedell explained;

[Portland was] the site of one of the first temperance societies, founded in 1815. And in 1851, Portland’s mayor, Neal S. Dow, talked Maine’s governor into signing a statewide prohibition act. It became known as The Maine Law, and it outlawed the manufacture and sale of alcohol except for medicinal and mechanical purposes. I’m not sure what the latter refers to. Seems to me downing a brew after mowing the lawn would qualify as a mechanical purpose.

In any case, by 1855, suspicions arose that Dow himself, the Napoleon of Temperance, had a cache of medical and mechanical goods stashed away. It all came to a head, so to speak, in the Portland Rum Riot on June 2, when Dow had the militia fire in a crowd of a few thousand thirsty rock-throwers, killing one and wounding seven. The Maine Law was repealed the next year, and Dow’s reputation was firmly on the downward path. – Tom Bedell

Neil S. Dow

Neil S. Dow, Mayor of Portland, 1851

Gritty McDuff's Biker

Thomas Wilson shows his grit in a local bike event.

Ah, yes, times have certainly changed. In today’s post, Thomas Wilson, of Gritty MacDuff’s kindly took the time to tell us a little more about his establishment.

Our building was originally a warehouse, then a seafood restaurant and since 1988, our Brew Pub. There really isn’t a  person named “Gritty McDuff” who is involved with our company. When the owners, Richard Pfeffer and Ed Stebbins started Gritty’s they had a corporate name (Brew Associates) but when they went to the state to register their company they didn’t really have a name for the brew pub in mind. But the state required a name for the brew pub to be put on the forms. So, Richard and Ed quickly thought of a high school friend named “Sandy” whose nick-name was “Gritty.” They named the brew pub after him and the McDuff part was just added on to give it a “first and last name.”

Carved Pub Sign

The Sign we made for Gritty’s. We took this photo out behind our workshop on a particularly stormy afternoon.

We purchased a hand-crafted dimensional sign because it reflects who we are and what we do. We believe the public’s first impression of our brew pub starts with the sign. We wanted a sign that was hand-crafted like our ales, looked substantial, infers “quality” and is creative. It has the “cool” factor we were looking for. It attracts the eye and we stand out on a busy street already full of signs.

Signs in Old Port Maine

(image courtesy of Corey Templeton)

Standing out is important, but so is fitting in. It’s a fine balance in a place like Old Port. Portland sign-painter, Will Sears, explains:

Portland has an awesome hand-painted sign scene. It’s dwindling and I know there are still some old sign-painters kicking around, but a lot of the ones I’ve talked to, due to financial reasons have converted to vinyl technology and it’s sad to see that. But if you walk through Old Port, there’s lots of huge painted advertisements, you know, building signs – really, really cool stuff! A lot of them are kind of ghost signs at this point, which is even cooler, and a lot of it has been preserved which is cool, like a business will not paint over it even if it’s no longer their business. There’s a respect for it. -Will Sears (Better Letter Signs, Portland, Maine)

Maine Ghost Sign

One of the Ghost Signs in Old Port (image courtesy of Kevin P. Luke)

Ghost Ad in Portland, Maine

Another One, almost within sight of Gritty’s (image coutesy of Panoramio)

Carved & gilded sign in Maine

Hand-Carved Signs are nothing new to this neighbourhood. We’re only continuing a long-standing tradition!

Thomas Wilson continues,

The “Old Port” section of Portland Maine was the original port of Portland. Picture dozens of sailing ships lined at the several docks unloading goods into cobblestone streets where men pushed carts of these items and materials into red brick warehouses to be sold or traded.

Fishing Vessels Painting 1908

‘Fishing Vessels at the Dock’, a postcard from Portland, Maine, c. 1908, painted by Hugh Manatee

A Cobbled Street in Maine

A Cobbled Street in Old Port

In the 1960’s and -70’s the area had fallen on hard times and was one of the roughest parts of Portland. There was very little commercial activity, no residential units and the area was not very attractive. In the 1980’s, however, the area was re-discovered and several dozen blocks of those red brick buildings are filled with shops, restaurants, bars, pubs, hotels, offices and residential units. It’s a lively scene populated by locals and tourists. Cruise ships visit during the summer and fall, there’s a thriving music & arts scene.

A Street in Maine

Wharf Lane, Old Port, after a downpour

Old Port Maine

A Panoramic image of the Old Port district (image courtesy of Portland Old Port)

Gritty McDuff’s was one of the first places to open in this rediscovered ‘old port’, and Maine’s original brew pub. Which means we were the first bar in Maine to brew our own beer on site and serve it.

We run a great organization. We started a quarter century ago. Today, we have 2 more brew pubs, distribute our beer throughout New England to other bars, restaurants and retailers, have 10 different ales, employ over 130 people, work with dozens of vendors and distributors and have a great time doing it.

To Celebrate Gritty’s twenty-fifth anniversary, a new beer was developed.

The S.O.S. or “Special Oatmeal Stout” was the first beer we brewed in honour of our 25th anniversary. It’s a small batch, limited edition beer. This dark, rich masterpiece combines a mix of toasted malts and hops that results in a well balanced, beautiful beer that is a little “bigger”  – more taste and more alcohol. We sold out of the first batch and expect our customers will demand we bring it back next spring.

S.O.S. Beer Label

Gritty’s Special Oatmeal Stout (image courtesy of Beerpulse)

Years ago, Richard and Ed were the first bar or brew pub to start a “mug club” in Maine. The idea was to build a loyal customer base and it’s worked really well! Today each of our three brew pubs has their own mug club – so there are over 1,800 mug club members between the three locations. In Portland we have a three-year waiting list to join.

Numbered Mugs in Maine

Numbered mugs hang from the ceiling at Gritty’s. Each belongs to a member of the prestigious ‘Mug Club’. (image courtesy of Urban Beer Nerd)

Basically  to join the customer pays $75 per year. In return they get a numbered mug that hangs above the bar. It’s their mug, they are the only person who can use it. They get discounts on beer and food and the mug clubs take field trips to sporting events or compete against each other in zany games.

Gritty's Beer

A Foaming Beer (image courtesy of Ice Fest)

Last month, we were visited by John Holl, author of “The American Craft Beer Cookbook”. It was a wonderful event. John’s new book featured a recipe for  our Corn Chowder and Blackened Shrimp. John was in town to launch his book tour, so we thought: why not sign some books in the pub? He sold some books, we had some chowder and beer and we all had a really great time.

Beer Cookbook

John Holl’s Cookbook (image courtesy of Press Herald)

If you’re considering starting a brew pub, honestly, don’t start one now! There are over 1,300 new breweries coming on-line in American this year alone! There are too many and they all won’t make it. Wait for the shakeout in about 5 years; you’ll be able to buy a brewery cheap. On the other hand, if you just can’t wait our advice is to think globally and act locally. Produce the best, most unique beer you can and sell it locally, build a loyal local base and then think about expanding your market. Become an integral part of your community. Support local causes, work hard and have fun doing it!

Christmas Beer Label

Label for Gritty’s Christmas Ale (image courtesy of Mom’s Malt Barley)

We all come up with the names for our beers – usually when we’ve been drinking ourselves. The design work is done by an amazing designer named Chris Hadden. Chris has done beer labels for several breweries all over America and each one has a different feel and look. Chris is over-the-top talented and we’re lucky he works with us.

Gritty's Logo

The Gritty’s Logo, designed by Chris Hadden

Barrel End with Logo

The Logo lends itself to many applications.

Pub Signs in Maine

A Rainy Day at Gritty’s (image courtesy of Maine Roots)

I’ll end with these words from an anonymous blog writer:

There is something about Gritty’s that, it seems to me, embodies the spirit of Maine.  Maybe it’s the wide, scarred tables that invite you to sit down with friends and strangers alike; maybe it’s the way it manages to seem like a rough, tough brew pub and still be welcoming; maybe it’s the way it represents the entreprenuerial spirit of the people of Maine; or maybe it’s a combination of all of these.   Regardless, Gritty’s is special and unique – even among the many and varied bars along Fore Street in the Old Port, the original Gritty’s location stands apart with a character all its own. – Maine Roots Blog

Gritty's at Night

Gritty’s at Night