Bars and live-music venues aren’t in short supply in Brunswick, so when Steve Hibberd opened Small Time in early 2020, he knew it’d need something to set it apart.
A two-pronged approach is what he came up with. Sure, Small Time is an inviting bar serving cheap New York-style slices, punchy cocktails and Aussie beers. But it’s also a live-music venue, recording studio and artist-development hub that’s already worked with local acts such as Alex Lahey, Paul Dempsey and more.
Because of Melbourne’s lockdowns last year, the pizza-and-booze side of things got off to a bit of a false start. But, “[It’s] the glue that sort of ties everything together and helps us create a place where we can support small artists and music,” Hibberd says.
The generously sized slices – cut from impressive 55-centimetre pies – start at just $5. And the menu is short and sweet. There’s the margherita-style Super Cheesus, a classic pepperoni pie, a vegetarian option and the plant-based Viva Las Vegans, plus regular specials that have recently included Hawaiian and capricciosa pizzas.
The pizzas’ popularity helped Hibberd keep a number of musos in work last year. “We were able to support musicians during 2020 by having them work in the kitchen and do all our deliveries,” he says. “They were getting all the delivery fees and we were topping it up a bit, so they were earning enough to make it worthwhile.”
The drinks list has wintry cocktails – such as a Hot Toddy and the Smoke Rings, with rye and peated whiskies, sherry and chocolate bitters – as well as a tight local wine list and beers from the likes of Bodriggy and Temple Brewing (as well as the house special, Small Time Draught). There’s also a nightly happy hour where the pizza slices are $4 and the pints are $8.
The space itself is homey and welcoming, with a charming out-of-use fireplace, arched doorways, brick finishes and a pool table. And the rooftop patio is an excellent place to let the arvo roll into the evening. But Small Time is a music hub first and foremost. So, when live music resumes in the street-level front bar in the coming weeks, you can catch a set from a local band or peer into a soundproof-glass studio where another might be laying down a live recording.
There are plenty of writing, recording and mixing spaces to help in-the-works projects come to fruition. It’s all part of Hibberd’s goal to connect emerging artists with key members of the music industry – and take significant steps in their career. “The venue is a place where we [can enact our] mission of supporting small artists and music,” he says. “Even the staff behind the bar all play in local bands.”
As well as helping artists write, record, produce and release music, it runs a weekly residency where a featured up-and-comer live-streams a performance online (and plays to anyone in the venue). More established artists might get a slot on Small Time TV.
“Small Time is a bit complex, but it attracts a music-loving community, which is massive in Melbourne,” he says. “Overall, we just want to bring that community together with young artists that they may not have seen before.”
271–273 Albert Street, Brunswick
Fri & Sat 11am–1am