Like so many of Adelaide’s heritage hotels, the Exeter has seen a number of makeovers since it opened on this site in 1851. The hotel we see today was rebuilt here in 1888- rumour had it due to competition from the nearby Tavistock Hotel.
The Tavistock was built in 1885, only seven doors down from the Exeter Hotel. It would have been a strong competitor for Rundle Street patrons. It was demolished in the 1960s to make way for the construction of Frome Street.
The Exeter Hotel’s design is in keeping with many of the commercial buildings that appeared at this time in Adelaide. Features including a chamfered, or right-angled edge corner, verandah and balcony can also be seen on other prominent hotels of the period, including the Botanic Hotel.
The hotel is built of coursed squared bush-hammered sandstone. The original openings are still visible on the ground floor. In 1929 it was refurbished and the distinctive green glass tiles were added to the exterior.
During the era of restricted trading, publicans of many Adelaide drinking holes were regularly prosecuted for illegal liquor and gambling practises, and the Exeter was no exception.
In 1837 then-publican Alma Rook pled guilty after a patron was found in the bar at only 6.35pm. Later, publican Archie Simonds was fined £10 for having two men and three women in the bar at 9.25pm. The men were found drinking unlawfully, but the mere act of having women in the front bar was also an offence until the 1970s. Despite blazing the trail for women’s suffrage, South Australia remained as slow as the rest of the country when it came to giving women a seat at the bar along with the vote.