City News

Last call at Sydney’s small venues

Many small venues across Sydney’s Inner West, like The Hideaway Bar in Enmore, are closing due to coronavirus fears. Photo: Alec Smart

By ALEXI DEMETRIADI

With the coronavirus escalating in Sydney, so too have the necessary, but strict, ‘social distancing’ laws. Non-essential gatherings were capped at 100 people, while the government announced that venues now must provide four square metres per person. For many small venues across Sydney’s Inner West, the current climate has become near-impossible to operate in.

Places emptying
“There’s no one on Enmore Road anymore,” Aaron Morley, licensee at The Hideaway Bar, told City Hub. “If you look outside, it’s peak hour – but there’s no one there.” Hideaway is one of Enmore’s popular spots for live music, but the speakers have been temporarily unplugged. Hideaway has seen numerous bands cancel due to the outbreak – its main source of footfall. “We can’t survive without live music and bands,” said Morley. The bar usually hosts three or four a night, that number has dropped to zero.

Just up Enmore Road is Cottonmouth. One wall of the small venue hosts vinyl records, the other a selection of craft beer. The bar celebrated its first birthday in early-March, and it has a consistent group of regulars, many of who are supporting it during the virus. “The support from the locals and regulars has been fantastic,” Cottonmouth’s owner Zac Williams told City Hub. “A lot of people are making an effort to support not just us, but other local spots – which is fantastic.”

“At the moment we’re like the band on the titanic who continue to play,” Williams added. “We continue to play and serve – we’ve still got to operate, pay rent, pay our staff.” Cottonmouth is another of Sydney’s many small venues that face an uncertain future in the midst of the escalating coronavirus outbreak.

The fear for Williams is restrictions continuing to grow and news that further spatial rules have been introduced will not ease that worry. “If restrictions mean that we can only have 50 people in our bar, we could still operate,” he explained. “But if that drops to 20 people, who’s going to want to go out at this point?”

The sentiment of solidarity between regulars and the venues that serve them is shared across the city. Miss Wolf on Marrickville Road has a capacity of 50 and even though it is less than a year old, it boasts a large number of regulars. A ‘puppy photo wall’ of regulars’ pets is displayed near the front bar. “We are a small business, so we rely in large part on our regulars and return drinkers,” Cas Tynan, bar manager at Miss Wolf, told City Hub. “They’re really trying to support us and as long as they keep coming back, we should be alright.”

Tynan explained that cleanliness and safety is a number one priority for Miss Wolf, for both customers and staff. “Cleanliness, for any hospitality venue, is the number one priority,” said Tynan. “We want to be able to continue to serve customers as long as we can ensure it is safe to do so.”

Moshpit on King Street, Erskineville, a small live music venue that remained popular as larger venues nearby shut down, has also had to cancel its live music program and close its doors. Managers Pat and Wax released a statement on 21 March saying, “We are sorry it has come to this but with the new restrictions that came in place yesterday, and with public health at the forefront of everyone’s minds, we feel it is the right thing to do.”

After Coronavirus
Vinery Foods has been a staple of the Annandale eatery scene for years and its owner Joseph Moussa said that he has received messages of support since the virus escalated. “We haven’t yet seen a drop-in business, but we have seen a real show of support and solidarity,” Moussa explained. “It’s really fantastic to see.”

While Moussa has yet to see a downturn in footfall, he is weary of the unknown brought about the coronavirus. “Our majority demographic is the elder population and it seems that this virus is affecting those people more,” he said. “People just don’t know what’s around the corner – there are a lot of question marks at the moment.”

Moussa said that that Vinery will be able to survive the following months, but he is cautious about what comes after. “One of my biggest concerns is moving forward and what’s going to happen when this all blows over,” he said. “The reality will be that there won’t be much disposable income and people will sadly be playing catch-up.”

While regulars have come out in force to support their favourite spots in Sydney, what happens to those venues who rely on students to form the bulk of their customers? With the city’s universities moving online, a huge customer base has vanished.

La Herradura Coffee Stable sits just off Broadway, a stone’s throw from UTS and the University of Sydney. The small Colombian café-restaurant relies on students but all of a sudden, those pupils have gone. “I think that we won’t survive through this,” Zeidy Pena, owner of La Herradura, told City Hub. “I think the possibility that we can get through this is very small.”

The quaint café-restaurant is decorated with Colombian artwork and it boasts picturesque outside street seating in leafy Chippendale. Today, La Herradura was completely empty.

Pena has resorted to just serving hot drinks and snacks. “We don’t order food anymore – with no customers, it just goes to waste,” she explained. Today’s milk delivery didn’t turn up so Pena and her barista both made a trip to Coles to pick up two bottles of milk – the maximum allowance. The barista is currently helping out and working for free until when, or if, business picks up. “This is a really critical time for us,” Pena said. “If the government doesn’t step in and help us, we won’t survive.”

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