You could never see into Vanguard from the street. The red doors were always shut; you had to be let in by the ticket collector. But now those doors are wide open and it’s free to go in. Instead of burlesque there’s blues, bluegrass, rockabilly and rock. This is Leadbelly.
Zac Davis and Luke O’Donohoe re-opened the venue in 2016, after a complete facelift. Designer AZB Creative added a dark-blue coat of paint to the walls; neon signage; a long, wooden bar; and an upstairs lounge where the theatrical mezzanine was. Only the stage was left in place.
The place looks suitably weathered without looking worn, a style that works well with the venue’s blues-and-roots direction.
The food has an American slant with burgers, wings, fries, po’boys and crisp-based pizzas. Twists come in the form of a karaage burger with black sesame and kewpie mayo; a prosciutto pizza, oddly sweetened with fig jam; and fried calamari sprinkled with Szechuan salt. There’s also a free round of roast peanuts on arrival.
The drinks list has top-quality whiskey; semi-local beers, including a rotating house-branded tap by Monteith; and classic cocktails with seasonal flourishes. In The Pines mixes whiskey, ginger, pandan, honey, lemon and cinnamon fig to hit the spot.