The tables are set, the trademark decorative plates adorn the walls and the fireplace invites convivial conversation.
That's the familiar scene generations of Goulburn and district families have enjoyed at The Fireside Inn.
Now, the restaurant famous for its fine dining is going up for sale for just the fourth time in its 86-year history.
The Market Street eatery is entwined with the Knowlman family, famous for its former large department store on the Market/Auburn Street corner.
Real estate agent Carol James said the current owner was looking for someone to take over. While he would consider lease, a sale is preferred. The price is available on application.
"It is part of Goulburn's history," she said.
"Most people would remember having wedding receptions, birthdays and functions there. The Fireside is remembered for many good things but also the food and atmosphere.
"It's an amazing building and we're hoping to find someone who will come in and live upstairs, love the property and run it as a full-time restaurant. That's what it and Goulburn needs because it's a historic building that needs to be seen."
The 75-seat restaurant closed in February/March, 2020 after lessees Steve and Kristan Norton left. They leased it from James Booth, who bought the building from Julian and Sue de Cseuz in 2012.
But it's best known for its ties to the Knowlman family. The first John Knowlman, a former Goulburn mayor, built an expansive department store just up the street in 1888. It passed down through the generations and employed thousands of Goulburn people until its closure in 1981. The large building was destroyed by fire in 1999.
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His son, John Edward Knowlman commissioned The Fireside's construction in the early 1930s after "a glorious tour" he and his wife made to England.
"He also saw it as a scheme to create work for the district in the middle of a depression," his granddaughter, Goulburn woman Kerrie Knowlman said.
Modelled on a Tudor style inn in the south of England from where the family originated, it was opened in 1934 and started life as tea rooms run by Mrs Muntz. Fittingly, it fronted Belmore Park, which John senior had described as "the jewel in Goulburn's crown."
It's unclear when the building became a restaurant but soon its food and atmosphere made it a place of choice.
Upstairs housed two flats.
"Dad's sister, Nancy, lived in one and his other sister, Margaret and her husband lived in the other," Kerrie said.
"The Marcella salon was also upstairs in the '60s and the member for Goulburn, Ron Brewer, had an office downstairs for a time where a coffee shop and Red Cross shop have been in more recent years."
As children, Kerrie and brother, Chris, did not dine at The Fireside with their parents, John Francis and Edna Knowlman. The store was more prominent in their lives but she fondly remembered visiting her two aunts above the restaurant. Later, her two cousins had their wedding receptions at the venue.
Inside, a portrait of John Edward Knowlman hung on the wall. It remains there today.
"It was the most wonderful place, with wonderful parties and so many Goulburn people would have great memories of the restaurant," Kerrie said.
"I'm sure many would be pleased the walls couldn't talk!"
A slice of history
Peter Flack and his partner, Geoff Parker leased the restaurant for 10 years until the early 1990s. They were the consummate hosts and bolstered The Fireside's reputation.
Mr Flack, a horse racing enthusiast, added to the restaurant's vast ornamental plate collection and owned an antique store upstairs.
"They were the most wonderful tenants and were very good to my aunt Nance, who was disabled," Kerrie said.
"...We had very good meals at The Fireside over the years. I do miss it and being able to chat to Peter and Geoff."
Mr and Mrs de Czeus bought the building in about 2004 but had leased it since 1991. Two years after its sale to Mr Booth in 2012, head chef of 23 years, Steve Norton, his wife Kristan and Mrs Norton and father-in-law David Cunningham leased the restaurant until last year's closure.
Mr Booth has opted for a change of direction.
Ms James said the building contained many original features such as the old English bar, timber paneling and flooring, heavy timber beams and the two upstairs flats. Some of the old wall plates also remained.
"It's a terrifically charming building and we expect really good out of town interest. Hopefully it's the right interest," she said.
Kerrie Knowlman will be keenly watching.
"I would like to see it continue in the same fashion as a fine dining restaurant," she said.
"One would hope that whoever buys it would treat it with the same affection we had, and I think Goulburn had for it. She's a beautiful old girl who deserves to be loved."
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