One of Northland's most iconic buildings - the Duke of Marlborough Hotel in Russell - is about to get a big revamp after the owners worked with Heritage New Zealand to ensure the work maintained the historic, century-old style.

The current Duke of Marlborough Hotel, which has been on the site since 1932 after being relocated from Cable Bay, will be extended to include balconies on its sea-facing side as well as the rear of the hotel in keeping with its style of architecture.

The elegantly designed balconies will enhance the iconic nature of the building, the "Governor" of the Duke of Marlborough, said Anton Haagh, who bought the historic hotel and restaurant with his wife, Bridget, and two other business partners in 2010.

"The work on the hotel building represents a sizeable investment - but the building deserves it," Mr Haagh said.


Meeting with Heritage New Zealand (HNZ) early on in the project provided the clarity needed to drive the project in the right direction, he said.

"We met with HNZ staff in the Northland office and talked about our plans. They were very positive about the design idea for the sea-facing side of the building, but also drew our attention to the rather hum-drum look of the building at the rear, which actually faces onto Russell's main street," Mr Haagh said.

"HNZ confirmed what we already believed - that the rear of the building is still an important street face, and that the hotel should reflect that. That really gave us the confidence to pursue that idea further with our architects. The result will be great."

The Duke boasts New Zealand's first liquor licence which now hangs in a gold frame in the bar.

The licence was awarded to Johnny Johnston by the Colonial Treasurer who happened to be his close friend. The Duke is the latest incarnation of a series of watering holes on the site that make up a fine 189-year tradition of "refreshing rascals and reprobates since 1827".

Originally named "Johnny Johnston's Grog Shop", the Russell institution has come a long way since. Recent patrons at the Duke of Marlborough have included Sir Mick Jagger and Cate Winslett.

Johnny Johnstone's colourful establishment burnt to the ground in 1845 during the battle of Kororareka. Johnny - who had earlier renamed his pub the Duke of Marlborough - rebuilt onsite, however, and the Duke stayed within the family until 1878.

In 1931 the second Duke building burned to the ground and was replaced by a hostel that housed telegraph workers at Cable Bay. The Cable Bay building - which was itself built in 1875 - is the current Duke building, and was shipped down the coast to Russell, and relocated on the site in 1932.