Melbourne’s Old Bar Turns 10
News posted Thursday, April 21 2011 at 09:00 AM.
Related: The Old Bar.
This weekend, Melbourne’s The Old Bar turns 10; a relatively short period of time for what’s become an institution in Fitzroy, and indeed Melbourne’s live music scene.
Over the past four years, The Oldie has embraced a truly inclusive band-booking policy, playing host to a huge variety of musical styles from acoustic roots music to experimental noise. The only common denominator has been an emphasis on originality that guarantees quality shows on any night of the week. Memorable Wednesday and Sunday night residencies by the likes of Kim Salmon, Graveyard Train, Cash Savage and Little John have attracted sell-out crowds when decent folks would normally try to catch some shut-eye before another hard day in the office.
While the venue – a one-time Spanish restaurant purchased by Liam Matthews, Singa Unlayiti and Joel Morrison in 2007 – stood firm during last year’s Liquor Licensing crisis (it’s still one of the few places in Melbourne where you can booze on until 3am seven nights a week), The Oldie still isn’t immune from the area’s changing demographic, gentrification and the resultant noise complaints. (It had to impose restrictions to limit courtyard noise following a complaint last year.)
We spoke to Matthews about the challenges ahead for The Old Bar as it enters its second decade.
So The Old Bar as we know it today grew out of the ashes of the Afterdark?
This incarnation certainly did. The Old Bar has been a venue now for 10 years. We took it over in 2007 at which time Singa and I owned The Afterdark and were trying to build a solid name for ourselves as a live music venue. It was tough up there in Northcote so when the chance came to take over here we did everything we could to make it happen. The fact that it was already established as a venue worked out perfectly for us and we felt that with Joel coming into the business we could really do what we had initially set out to do, which is run a venue the way wanted to run it.
What attracted you to the pub in the first place?
Basically it was already a live music venue with a liquor licence that was for sale. It had everything that we needed to continue trying to achieve our goals of running a venue, it was bigger than what we had and it was in Fitzroy. There was very little to think about other than, “How do we get it?”
What was the Old Bar like when you took over?
It was pretty much the same as it is now. We have made some changes to the sound system and we open every day and for longer hours, but basically it’s the same. I think the bar may have been a little neglected as a business as the previous owner had another full-time job and was doing it on his own, so the place wasn’t getting the attention it really needed, which is a fucking lot of attention. Even now we have people occasionally walking in asking if we are still a Spanish restaurant, so obviously the building still looks the same as it did 10-plus years ago.
Who'd you take it over from?
A guy named Paul, he had owned it for two years and prior to that a guy named Andy, who was also the guy who turned the building into a bar/venue. To be honest i know very little about either of these men other than I am thankful Andy created The Old Bar and that Paul sold it.
What's been the biggest change since you've taken over?
I’d have to say the changes that we have made to the sound in here. Getting the mixing desk off the wall and putting in a bigger system coupled with carpeting the band room have made the place sound so much better. Opening up to the full extent of the licence has been big for us as well. It’s a real commitment to open seven nights a week and to open the amount of hours we do, but they are available to us so we may as well use them. I would also say the presence that we have on the internet now with promotion is a solid change, but I’d also say that this is a sign of the times and not so much a decision that we made for change.
How much has the area changed in those 10 years?
I think that Fitzroy always had a very strong name for itself as a hub for live music and bars, it’s just that some of those venues are no longer here and have been replaced by others. The amount of people living in the area and what these people expect from "their" suburb has changed a lot though, which as we all know makes this business tough at times.
“Even now we have people occasionally walking in asking if we are still a Spanish restaurant, so obviously the building still looks the same as it did 10-plus years ago.”
Has the licensing situation improved?
Well the media has certainly calmed down, which actually tends to make the public calm down, which takes the pressure off a tad. I still think there are some real issues, but they are possibly more council-related and not licensing. We completed our paper work with Liquor Licensing in January to remove our security conditions and was told that it would take 30 days to process. We are still waiting on that. Same old stuff.
Have noise restrictions always been an issue? Or has it gotten worse?
For us it got worse when the apartments at the rear of the venue were built. We have taken measures to stop these noise problems and at this stage they seem to have worked. You just never know though: someone could move into one of the neighbouring shops and complain; or we could have someone who moves into the area who complains about every noise they hear. As it stands, they are in the right.
What's been the most memorable gig?
For me it was the benefit we put on to help us raise funds to replace the PA and carpet the venue. It was incredible to have all these bands give up their time and all the punters show up and spend so that we could do this. It really humbled us to go out there and say that we wanted to do it, but needed help; then receive a positive reception to the idea; then to have it be successful. It was amazing.
What do you have planned for your 10th birthday?
Pretty much the same as every other weekend to be honest. Lots of great bands and lots of friends helping us celebrate. I’m glad this falls on a really long weekend so everyone will be in high spirits already, and I’m excited about the line ups that we have helping us get through it all.
Where do you see the bar over the next 10 years?
Hopefully still here to be honest, and hopefully I’m still one of the people running it.
(Photos by Kate Seabrook)
The Old Bar’s 10th birthday celebrations kick off tonight (April 21) with performances by Money For Rope, The Death Rattles, Ron S Peno & The Superstitions and Link Meanie. For a full gig guide click here.