Paramount House, as it is now known, has always exuded an undeniable charm. The art deco icon is an elegant signpost of times gone by, resting at the intersection of Hunt, Commonwealth and Brisbane Streets. Designed by Henry Pynor in 1940, the building’s charm has ensnared the hearts of a number of roaming creatives in recent years, with empty lower ground levels playing host to some of the city’s more magnetic exhibitions and events.
On the west façade, a flickering green neon sign by Australian artist collective Soda_Jerk reads ‘Picture House’. It was installed as a part of the Joseph Allen Shea exhibition Motion/Pictures in 2011 and has remained ever since, perhaps testament to the building’s history and as a signal of its creative future.
For the past five years, the building has been the darling of Right Angle Studio’s Barton brothers, who have overseen the revival of the space and partnered together to restore the basement theatrette into a new cinema and bar. Barrie Barton believes the building is “simply one of the most beautiful in Sydney, but beneath the beauty there is such a rich history of film.”
The Barton brothers’ original idea for Paramount was a rooftop cinema, akin to Right Angle’s successful Curtin House cinema concept in Melbourne. Despite efforts to appease the voice of the residential valley that surrounds the building, the rooftop idea eventually hit a wall in 2011. “The rooftop cinema proposal was recommended for approval by the City of Sydney Planning Department,” Barton recalls, “but then subsequently rejected by the councillors for some tenuous reasons that contradicted the professional opinion of their Planning Department.”
Disheartened but still determined, Golden Age Cinema & Bar is Right Angle’s Plan B, which they feel is actually reels better than Plan A. Taking the roof concept down to the basement “seemed like the logical thing to do”, says Barton. “This is where Paramount showed its films to cinema owners when going to the ‘pictures’ was a really fancy thing to do. It’s a stunning room and we’ve left it almost as is.”
The front atrium of the building will host the cafe, while the bike store has been set up towards the back, beneath a veil of natural light. At night, this will exclusively become the entrance foyer to the cinema, with plans for drop down projection screens to mask the retail space.
On follow the stairs down, around to the right and entering Golden Age, emerald green carpet and wooden panelling is offset with gleaming gold accents that are a perfect allusion to the past, while plush booths and soft lighting in the bar “is a bit like the early seasons of Mad Men”.
“The aesthetic is less about obvious cinema industry objects, and more about the elements that happen inside great films: lighting, shadows and reflections,” says Barton. The bar also features a vintage atom chandelier by Robert Haussmann and honey coloured candles created especially by Maison Balzac, inspired by the Lumiere Bros.
At Golden Age, the food and beverage component is just as important as the film. Barton attests that he has “never understood why going to the movies means you should be subjected to bad wine and popcorn”. Brother and business partner Bob Barton founded Darlinghurst’s The Commons Local Eating House in 2010 and has worked with a collection of talented you chefs and bartenders to develop the menu for the cinema and bar. “The drinks menu will host some great wines and a neat list of classic cocktails and some highball drinks inspired by films,” says Barton. “We’ll have two shiny beer taps: Asahi on one so you can always get a crisp lager, while the other will rotate through craft ales from interesting characters around the country.”
Programming for the independent cinema will be managed by FBi Radio’s Kate Jinx and will feature old as well as recently released films, and pieces never before shown in Australia, like Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture and Michele Gondry’s The We and the I. Tuesday prices salute the cinema’s nostalgic element, with tickets costing precisely what they would have at the film’s release date (tickets to Duck Soup from 1933 will cost five cents).
Golden Age marks a new era for the Surry Hills heritage-listed building – a stylish, tasteful nod to the past, with all the promise of a spectacular and cultured future. “We’re trying to be nostalgic without being sentimental,” Barton says. “So the older stuff is peppered through the newer and more avant-garde films and events.”
Golden Age Cinema & Bar
80 Commonwealth Street, Surry Hills
Tues to Fri 5pm–late
Sat & Sun 2.30pm–late