Mary’s co-owner Jake Smyth has been thinking about the next steps for Mary’s Underground, the ambitious restaurant he opened last year, which took the group beyond the realm of fried chicken and burgers and moved it into fine-dining territory. He and co-owner Kenny Graham took over the CBD live-music venue The Basement in May, and started serving punters lobster and steak frites while a house band played a couple sets each night.
“I was thinking: what does Sydney want?” Smyth tells Broadsheet over the phone. “We are a city blessed. We are blessed with world-class restaurants. And we have fuck-all live music venues.”
He says that’s the reason why he and Graham have decided to pivot and turn Mary’s Underground into a music-focused venue, rather than a restaurant that offers live music.
The change brings Mary’s Underground closer to what its predecessor The Basement offered for 45 years, up until 2018. “Our musical director [Joe Muller] has always been gently pushing us in the direction we’ve now gone,” says Smyth. “Why are we in this room? Why are we in this space? It was always to do with music. Music was always the number-one draw for the space; everyone’s aware of the history of The Basement.
“We’re just opening our doors wider to the music community and to bands and artists. We’re widening the amount of people who can enjoy and use the space.”
Already in the works for upcoming shows: cabaret-esque groups, punk outfits, rock’n’roll, neo-jazz and “really old-school jazz heavy-hitters – things we couldn’t achieve before”.
While dishes such as lobster and bombe alaska will no longer be the centrepiece of the venue, Smyth says that artists will still be able to opt for a full sit-down dinner-and-show experience should they want to offer it. There’ll be a number of packages artists can choose from, giving the venue greater flexibility to accommodate a wider variety of gigs.
“We still have a kitchen, we still have the same desire to create these moments for artists,” says Smyth. “Whether it’s a rock band that wants a 500-capacity venue, or an act that wants a sit-down dinner, we’ve got the ability to pull either off. We’ve built a really strong reputation off the back of food, but now when you come, it’ll be about going to see your favourite artist.”