Puhoi publican Gillian Seymour is about to draw her last handle from one of New Zealand’s quintessential pubs.
The Puhoi Hotel, which has been quenching the thirst of locals and travellers for more than 140 years, is on the market.
Seated in an office decorated with an eclectic mix of memorabilia including a signed Goldie print of the Queen Mother, Gillian says that after nearly two decades, it is time to pass the baton on. “The pub has tremendous potential but I’m not going to sell to just anyone,” she says. “One generation doesn’t build a pub like this – it is the work of many and I respect that legacy. If you believed in fairy tales, then it would be sold to a Bohemian descendent, but I will be happy if it goes to someone who understands its place in this iconic village.”
Becoming the 26th licensee at the Puhoi Hotel was the last thing on Gillian’s mind 20 years ago. An entrepreneur at heart, she describes herself as “a foodie from way back”. Since leaving school, she has worked in hospitality, business administration, helped run her former husband’s law firm, and worked closely with Sir Michael Somare prior to Papua New Guinea’s independence.
“Travelling, skiing and sailing, including three Sydney to Hobart races, have all been a big part of my life.
“My Dad, Rod Seymour, and his wife Dulcie, bought the Puhoi Hotel in 1962. Dad was one of a kind; a bit of a showman.
“It was the days of six o’clock closing. He was convicted 29 times for breaching his license for everything from opening after hours to shutting early and, in the end, he had to surrender the license to Dulcie and become ‘just the barman and bookkeeper’.”
Before moving north, Rod had been a concrete contractor, developer and councillor on the Ellerslie Borough Council, and he is the one credited with turning the bar into a museum.
The couple died within six months of each other in the early 2000s, leaving Gillian in charge.
“Dad was the face of the pub, whereas I’ve worked much more in the background. It drives itself now and doesn’t need me.
“What I love about the pub is how it doesn’t matter who you are, you can relax and enjoy yourself.
There is still plenty of elbow room and no parking meters. We have patrons who have been coming here their whole lives, as well lots of celebrities passing through, from All Blacks and movie and television stars to bikers and axemen, and even royalty. If you check the visitors book, you’ll find an entry from Albert Grimaldi, Prince of Monaco.”
When Gillian walks out the pub door for the last time, she will take 58 years worth of memories with her, but little else. She says the memorabilia will stay with the pub as it is all part of village story.
“I’m satisfied that I’ve achieved what I set out to do, even though it took a bit longer than I expected.”
In recent years, Gillian has faced some health challenges after sarcoma were found first in the calf muscle of her right leg and then, 12 months later, in the thigh. The leg was removed last year, making maneuvering around the pub more difficult.
Her plans for retirement aren’t set in stone, but she is keen to be more involved in work to save the orangutan of Borneo, a charity she was introduced to by her stepdaughter Kobe.
Puhoi has had a watering hole since around 1873 when an Irishman, Andrew Meaney, took up a bush licence to sell liquor from a pub shanty. The first permanent licence was issued to John Schollum for the German Hotel in 1879. It is believed the name changed to the Puhoi Hotel around the time of World War I.
The pub and adjoining stables are on two titles and are being offered for sale separately. The pub sits on .60 hectares, while the land across the road covers around 4.3 hectares. The two-storey pub is built of kauri with heart totara foundations and both the pub and The Stables are listed as Historic Places Category 2.