Sydney CBD bar Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was open for just 33 days before the country went into lockdown. Now, the plush, velvet-lined cocktail bar has been forced to close for the foreseeable future, after being evicted by its landlord late last month.
A Mandatory Code of Conduct was devised in April 2020 by the National Cabinet to help companies with annual turnover of less than $50 million deal with the fallout of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions. The code protected Covid-affected tenants from eviction for non-payment of rent during the pandemic.
During 2020, however, a spokesperson for The Speakeasy Group, which owns Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (along with seven other venues in Sydney and Melbourne, including Eau-de-Vie and Nick and Nora’s), says the landlord relentlessly pursued full rent payment. This was despite the fact that, under the code, half the bar’s rent was waived and half deferred.
While the code was set to expire on December 31, 2020, it’s since been extended till March – but with a reduced turnover threshold of $5 million. Although the bar’s annual turnover is forecasted at $2.5–$3 million, turnover from the group’s other bars – including those in Victoria – counts towards the figure, meaning the CBD venue is now ineligible.
A statement released by the group confirms that a formal mediation was organised for January 29. However, on January 26 the landlord changed the locks, forcing the business to shut down.
“Locking out a tenant that has been complying with the code and doing everything in their power to stay alive during this pandemic, just days before a scheduled mediation makes us question whether our landlord was acting in good faith,” Speakeasy CEO Sven Almenning said in a statement. “This is exactly what the code was written to prevent.”
The code stipulates that “landlords and tenants will negotiate in good faith” and makes clear that landlords mustn’t terminate leases due to non-payment of rent “during the Covid-19 pandemic period (or reasonable subsequent recovery period)”. There are now fears that more businesses will be forced out of their premises due to the reduced turnover threshold.
The landlord has confirmed the eviction with the Sydney Morning Herald, but declined to comment.
“It’s devastating to see all the work and efforts of our team go to waste like this,” says Almenning. “Whilst it has been a tough year [for] KKBB we were looking forward to rebuilding the business in the coming year, and fully believe that had our landlords agreed to work with us within the framework of the code, and had they given us a reasonable recovery period as mandated by the government, we would have been able to save and rebuild the business.”
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
This article was updated on February 10, 2021.