A sprinkling of romance and a bunch of swagger are what Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham are promising when they take over the space once occupied by live-music venue The Basement, which closed unexpectedly in March last year after 45 years of hosting groundbreaking acts such as Prince, Herbie Hancock, Vince Jones and De La Soul.
Mary’s Underground will be the fourth venue run by funsters Smyth and Graham, the duo behind Newtown’s Mary’s (and the CBD outpost) – which was instrumental in Sydney’s burger renaissance – Paddington pub The Unicorn, and in Chippendale, The Lansdowne, which also contains the venue-within-a-venue Mary’s Pizzeria.
It’ll be the second live-music space the group has moved into – it reopened the Lansdowne pub in 2017 after it was shut for 18 months, reinstating its program of bands. (There’s now also a roster of music at The Unicorn).
Mary’s Underground will be a two-speed venue. The bones of The Basement layout will essentially be retained (but with slight changes). The upstairs bar will become a fast-casual joint serving burgers, beers and fried chicken à la Mary’s, with a view onto Macquarie Place Park, and outdoor park seating for 35.
The subterranean band room will have a bar, a stage (which is being moved to the left to deliver better sightlines) and a more intimate and involved restaurant. The musical line-up will be diverse, encompassing rock‘n’roll, jazz, bluegrass, hip-hop and electro-pop.
Chatting to Broadsheet after he spent the morning overseeing the construction site, Smyth says the restaurant will have a Euro-American vibe with a “touch of luxury”, serving dishes such as lobster and steak frites. Booze will have an Australian focus and, as at their other venues, the wine list will have a natural or sustainable bent (“and not just cloudy and fucked up ones”).
Does all this mean you could be dining on fancy, large-scale crustaceans as say, David Byrne plays on a small stage a couple metres away? Smyth says, “Yes, we’re bringing the dinner-and-a-show concept back. But we don’t want to get to where someone comes in and it’s a $300 dinner; that will be rare. And really it’s not serious. We want it to be more dancing on the tables and everything done through a lens of fun and party.” (Can we put in an order for a Byrne dinner and show?)
While that rowdy Mary’s spirit will filter through the entire place – “Think ‘Ratbag Bar and Grill’,” says Smyth – they are taking the food seriously.
“We had a flirt doing something a little fancy at Mary’s Pizzeria and it’s exciting to be back discussing service at that level,” Smyth continued. “At Mary’s we shook up the genre of a dive bar by serving elevated burgers with service and wine that matched it. While it was loud and rambunctious, it was curated.”
Mary’s Underground has an opening date of May, and Smyth wants to make it clear that it won’t be Mary’s transported to the city.
“It won’t be Mary Meets a Suit, it’ll be Mary’s In the Park more than anything, because of that shady grass area in Macquarie Place [which will accommodate 35 outdoor seats]. It will have the swagger of Mary’s because we don’t want to change who we are when we come to the city. And we want to be respectful to the space.”
The tiny downstairs back bar that used to be called Blue Note Bar will also be given a shake-up. It’ll be turned into an intimate space for 30 to 40 people with a cold bar serving clams, prawns, and shucked-to-order oysters,.
The venue will have a zero-waste focus and the food will be overseen by Smyth and Jimmy Garside, the group’s executive chef (they’re recruiting a head chef now). The upstairs burger joint will be open midday to 1am seven days, while the underground music space will be open Thursday to Saturday from 6pm to 3am.
“Unless we have special events,” says Smythe. “If Tom Waits wants to play on a Monday, then we’ll open.”
We'd be into that, too.
Mary’s Underground is slated to open in May.