MASKED bandits knocked one punter unconscious with a machete and held another at the throat of a young barmaid during a violent armed robbery at a Newcastle suburban pub yesterday.
In the latest hold-up to hit the Hunter, patrons at the Mary Ellen Hotel retaliated by hurling schooner glasses at three bandits, who returned fire before escaping with a large amount of cash.
Newcastle City detectives are now working with Strike Force Heinz investigators in hunting down the attackers, who are also suspected of trying to run down another patron as they sped off in their getaway car. The car was later found abandoned at Hamilton South.
The robbery comes as the Hunter hurtles towards breaking a decade-long armed hold-up record, with at least 126 businesses targeted by violent thieves this year.
The bandits, who had their faces covered with bandannas and hooded jumpers, stormed the Railway Street doors of the popular Merewether pub about 12.30am.
Inside were about a dozen people finishing their last drinks and several staff.
Police said one patron had an altercation with the thieves before he was struck on the arm and the back of the neck by a machete.
The neck shot knocked the man to the ground, and he was kicked in the stomach and groin.
Another patron then grabbed schooner glasses and hurled them at the bandits, at least one of the criminals throwing several glasses back.
It was then that one of the men frogmarched a young bar attendant towards an office where a second female worker was counting money.
They left on foot towards Llewelleyn Street and are believed to have been in a car which swerved up onto a footpath towards another male hotel employee.
Police said the vehicle, described as a blue Holden Commodore, mounted the kerb and hit the legs of the man, but he was not seriously injured.