It’s rare for Sydney to get good news in relation to its nightlife, but after 18 months of what appeared to be dereliction, the new owners of Chippendale’s iconic Lansdowne Hotel have announced it will re-open in June. In August of 2015 the Lansdowne closed after 90 years of bringing beers, food and emerging musicians to the local community.
New owners Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham from the nearby Mary’s Newtown and Paddington’s Unicorn Hotel are committed to keeping the venue’s legacy alive. The venue’s entire top floor (instead of the bottom, where the stage used to be) will be dedicated to live music, and they are investing in premium acoustics. They’ve partnered with Matt and Dan Rule, the former owners of another live-music casualty, The Annandale. The brothers now have their own booking company (The Music and Booze Co) and book musicians regularly for venues such as Brighten Up Bar, Lord Gladstone Hotel and Botany View Hotel. They know Sydney’s emerging artists and are the right people to continue the Lansdowne’s legacy.
“We feel confident – not because of our abilities but because it’s such a perfect storm of timing – with the Rule brothers, and the history of the Annandale and everything,” says Smyth. When Smyth and Graham were first approached to buy the venue they turned it down – they had enough on with three venues already. But they visited the site and, once inside, looked at each other and it clicked. “We said, ‘If we’re going to do this, we’re going to have to do this right’. It’s not good enough to be a local pub – it had to be what it was in its heyday. It’s daunting, but we saw the potential.”
The Lansdowne was a vital bridge for emerging artists between free pub sets and larger venues like The Oxford Art Factory. Before it closed in 2015 it had hosted early-career performances from artists such as You Am I, The Living End, the Hard-Ons and The Preatures. “When we met with [the Rule brothers] they were so excited. We didn’t shop it around any further than that. It’s too perfect.”
“The council is being really proactive, positive and helpful. It makes me excited for the future of Sydney’s live-music scene,” says Smyth.
There are going to be changes in the design – “it’s not a fucking period piece” – but they’ll keep all the original elements they can.
Although the focus is on music, you can’t help but wonder what’s going to come out of the kitchen in a venue by Smyth and Graham. The answer doesn’t disappoint – “we’re doing Detroit-style pizza at night. Not deep-dish, but like Pizza Hut used to be, with delicious fucking weird burnt-cheese crusts.” To maintain the student spirit of the former pub they’re doing a $10 lunch menu, Monday to Friday. “It’s not going to be a fucking discount that will go back up to $18 for the rest of the time. Poverty breeds challenge – if they are going to spend $10 on us we’re going to fucking bust our arse for it. They will be the best $10 meals in the fucking country.” They’ll be making “student mi goreng and ghetto ramen” and yes, there’ll be a burger, but not a Mary’s burger.
The venue is slated to open by the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.