MARK Bell has seen plenty of “last drinks” during nearly 27 years as manager of the Airlie Beach Hotel.
But on Friday night, the last drinks were for the affable publican following his recent decision to ease into semi-retirement.
Paul Keating was Australia’s prime minister when Mr Bell decided to make the move north at the start of 1992.
“I’d managed a couple of venues in Brisbane and another south of Wollongong,” he said.
“I said I wouldn’t take the job without going up to have a look and flew up in December.
“I had a look at the place and really ummmed and aaahhed all the way home.
“I was in the car travelling through the suburbs of Brisbane and said to myself ‘there’s only one Airlie Beach Hotel’, so I took the plunge.”
Mr Bell said he had originally expected his stay to be a relatively short one.
“I was 35 when I arrived and I thought I’d come for three to five years, but that went out the window pretty quickly,” he said.
“It felt like home from the early days and I never really wanted to move on.
“I must thank Tim O’Neill, who employed me for the hotel and his son Paul, and the O’Neill family because they have been amazing to work with.
“I could never have imagined the journey ahead being so memorable.”
The Airlie Beach Hotel has undergone a series of changes during his time at the helm.
“We relocated the TAB from the old shop where Subway now sits into the public bar,” he said.
“We changed Faces nightclub into Shuters in 1994 with a budget of around $48,000 and turning that into a great success until it made way for the hotel.
“The carpark beside the bottle shop on Shute Harbour Road became Mangrove Jacks in 1997 and in 2000, the four-star hotel opened along with Capers on the Esplanade.”
The hotel has been symbolic of the changes also undergone by Airlie Beach during Mr Bell’s time in the Whitsundays.
“I think the biggest change to the town was the development of the Port of Airlie,” he said.
“You look at that, and the Abell Point marina had doubled in size, while the lagoon was another massive thing to happen.”
Mr Bell has seen many people come and go through the doors of the hotel throughout the years.
Before his departure, he pulled out the calculator to work out some outstanding sums.
“I worked it out that we’ve probably had 6000 plus staff in that time,” he said.
“However some of them were a bit costly to the business, smashing some 10,257 plates, 51,316 glasses and somehow getting 71,102 teaspoons to disappear.
“I must say a special thanks to Pascal Schaffer, Jenny Mitchell, Eva McMahon, Rob Matcham, Tim Whitehorn and Steve Woolhouse, who have collectively, including myself, racked up over 100 years of service at the hotel.”
Mr Bell labelled Cyclone Debbie and the resultant impacts left by the storm as the biggest challenge to overcome during his tenure.
As for what’s next, Mr Bell said a trip to Hawaii with his wife Renee for some surfing and outrigging events was on the cards, not to mention checking out some sights closer to home.
“I’ve always wanted to travel around Australia and hopefully we’ll do it in a motorhome,” he said.
Mr Bell saved a final, special mention for a pivotal collection of people.
“To all our customers, thanks for the support over the years, especially those who have been supporting the hotel from my first year and are still coming in today,” he said.
Source: Whitsunday Times.