Originally named the Empire Hotel in 1898, the current two-storey establishment was built in 1926 for local wine and spirit merchants P.J. Doyle Ltd. The hotel was built of reinforced concrete, a popular construction material in the inter-war years in cyclone prone areas. Plain and modest, it catered mainly for wharf labourers. It was partly occupied by the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II. In the 1950s, the Hotel reportedly stayed open 24 hours a day to cater for shift workers at the sugar shed and terminals. In 1960 it was named the Barrier Reef Hotel, reflecting the growing importance of tourism.
This hotel also forms a part of the Cairns Esplanade Heritage Walk trail which can be found here.