Owners of Cape York Hotel Dennis and Donna Maher with Kylie Shand and Craig Hutchinson.
Owners of Cape York Hotel Dennis and Donna Maher with Kylie Shand and Craig Hutchinson. Stewart McLean

Best pubs in Queensland: NQ hotel is a popular haunt

THE Cape York Hotel lessee Kylie Shand knows the old pub is haunted.

Some days, "it just has that feel”.

"Every now and then you'll hear something and I will wonder if it's haunted,” she shares.

"Apparently this is a ghost in room four or five. I think it's a woman but I haven't seen it.”

Like some otherworldly body, the Cape York stays, even after several lifetimes worth of change.

Since 1898, there has always been a pub on the corner of Spence and Bunda streets in Cairns, close to the wharf and a stone's throw from the central business district.

Its first incarnation, the Tramway Hotel, served customers alighting from the tramline right outside its door for 22 years before a cyclone tore through the city.

It was rebuilt by the McNamara family and renamed The National Hotel in 1932.

After the Cape York Shipping Company bought the business in 1987 another tragedy struck.

In August of that year, a storage cylinder carrying about 40,000 litres of liquefied petroleum gas caught fire and exploded, engulfing the pub in the ensuing fireball.

But the people of the Far North are a resilient lot and three months later, one of the city's most popular watering holes was rebuilt to its original design and reopened as The Cape York Hotel.

The historic Cape York Hotel.
The historic Cape York Hotel. Stewart McLean

In 2017, the pub is a place to go to reminisce.

There is a lot of talk about that big barra Mick caught way back when or the time someone rode a motorcycle through the front door and proceeded to do burnouts in the bar.

"It was the original pub and that's where everyone congregated,” Ms Shand said.

"When Cairns Central shopping centre and the railway was being built all the workers went there for a drink.

"You do walk around the pub and think about all the people who passed through here.”

Ms Shand and the other lessees, Dennis and Donna Maher and Craig Hutchinson, are planning another reincarnation for the Cape York.

Soon, there will be hundreds of apartments built just down the road to house Cairns' burgeoning population, providing plenty of customers.

"We're undergoing a bit of a refurbishment and we are in the process of doing up the front bar,” she said.

"You need to retain that historic feel. It's a beautiful old building and you need to respect that. We'll give it a new lease on life but keep the most important parts of its character.”