Imposter at the Palisade

Standing tall on the hill south-west of Walsh Bay precinct is the Hotel Palisade, which also was built during the Sydney Harbour Trust’s early 20th century development of the Walsh Bay wharves and warehouses.

The Hotel Palisade after its renovations and reopening, c.2016 (Palisade).

Completed in 1916 to replace another Palisade hotel built in 1880, the architecture of this building has been described as ‘Federation Free Style’. This expressionist design approach, blending ancient classical forms with more creative features from the British Arts and Crafts movement, flowered in Sydney after the federation of Australian states (national self-governance) and the death of Queen Victoria in 1901.

Both the 1880 and 1916 Palisade hotels were named after a colonial palisade fence that separated adjacent Munn Street and Bettington Street on high ground at Millers Point.

The current Palisade building is said to have been designed by Henry Deane Walsh during his 1901-1919 term as a leading engineer of the Sydney Harbour Trust (which owned all property on this headland west of east Circular Quay).

However, Walsh did not have any architectural training, and it seems likely that this polychrome brick and sandstone building (and others in Walsh Bay) were really designed in the office of NSW Government Architect George McRae (1911-23).

The Palisade was not operating and not included in the NSW government’s redevelopment of the Walsh Bay precinct in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

New owners renovated the interiors and added a modern steel-and-glass extension; reopening the bars and function rooms in 2015, before the building’s centenary year. The top two floors, with spectacular harbour and city skyline views, were refitted by designer Sibella Court as the Henry Deane (HD) cocktail bar, named in honour of Walsh.

Level 4 of the Palisade, with a portrait of ‘HD’.

Hanging above the staircase linking the two levels of the HD bar is large oil painting of a young, English swashbuckler from the reign of Charles I. This figure lends Renaissance panache to the venue, but he bears no resemblance to the portly Irish engineer and Freemason who created this building in the early 20th century.