When Northcote Theatre reopened after a major renovation in 2022, the heritage-listed building brought even more life to the already bustling High Street. In the short time since, it's played host to international artists like Sharon van Etten, Charli XCX and Arlo Parks, plus exciting local acts like Briggs, Jen Cloher and RVG.
The revival of the 1500-seat theatre, which had laid dormant for decades, felt like your favourite band dropping an anniversary edition of a classic album. But two spaces on the building's streetfront remained unused.
Realising its potential, Jamie Bennett – co-founder of music and creative agency Crown Ruler – took over the twin venues. The result is High Note, a quintessential Melbourne wine bar that doubles as an events and live music space, as well as a hub for Crown Ruler.
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“We’ve been based in Melbourne for a long time now, but we’ve never really had a home or a place to bring people together,” says Bennett. The music collective has helped bring to life Sun Cycle, Duke Street Block Party and hundreds of other events and festivals since its inception as a music agency in 2000. “Now we’ve got a space to call our own, we want to share it with people and invite them to be a part of what we’re doing.”
What they’re doing in the space is multifaceted. Two high-ceilinged rooms are connected by a footpath dining area in front of the theatre. Through folding windows on one side, you’ll find a large wooden bar serving up lo-fi local and Italian wines, approachable cocktails and rotating beers on tap – plus some fun non-alc options, like Japanese sports drink Pocari Sweat. For food, there are the usual wine bar snack suspects, like charcuterie and oysters.
There’s also a DJ booth with vinyl and digital decks for local and touring acts to spin tunes, while pieces made by local artists hang on the original interior brick walls.
The space has an inviting DIY charm about it, reflective of Melbourne’s thriving music scene. Bennett and his business partners – Umut Turkeri of Hope Audio and James Clarke, who heads music marketing agency Bolster Group – worked on the fit-out themselves, collaborating with Curve Build & Design.
“Music and hospitality have always been linked. When you’re spending so much time in venues on tour, you start to realise what works and what doesn’t,” Bennett says. “I think a lot of people in the music industry have a dream, in the back of their mind, to open a bar… We just thought we’d give it a go and try to add some extra value that might be missing for local musicians and fans.”
Make your way to High Note’s second room and you’ll find a collaborative space for local and touring musicians to host talks, sell merch, run meet and greets, perform Tiny Desk-style concerts, launch albums with listening parties and more.
The best part? The sound system. Original vintage Altec Lansing horns, which once graced the Sydney Opera House and have since been restored by Turkeri, hang in each space, giving artists the opportunity to hear their music on the kind of speakers they’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.
There’ll also be opportunities for fans to meet touring musicians who are performing at Northcote Theatre and the space will be available to book for private events.
High on Bennett’s priority list is that the room be accessible for artists to use as often as possible. “It’s important that artists have a space where they feel that they can collaborate and showcase their work. We want them to wander in whenever they feel like it,” he says. “Central hubs for musicians are sort of missing in Melbourne, which you wouldn’t really expect for a city with a vibrant scene.”
220 High Street, Northcote
Tues to Fri 4pm–1am
Sat & Sun 1pm–1am