Inner West Independent

Newtown’s Hub theatre to become “craft brew embassy”

The Hub theatre in Newtown has stood dormant since the late 90s. Photo: Flickr/ Joe Latty

By ALLISON HORE

Once infamous for adult entertainment, plans are in the works to transform Newtown’s dormant Hub theatre into a classy craft beer shop and entertainment venue. 

The heritage Hub theatre building on the corner of King Street and Enmore Road started life as a vaudeville theatre in the early 1900s and ended life as an adult cinema in the 1990s. Now, it’s set to be reborn as a craft beer “embassy.”

Under the guidance of Sydney hospitality consultant Michael Vale, a collective of breweries and hospitality figures are hoping to transform the disused building into an upmarket venue showcasing the best craft beers from around Australia. 

Inspired by the beer houses of Germany Mr. Vale visited on his 2014 trip, he said the building would house five Australian breweries representing different states from around Australia. Though it’s where he drew his inspiration, Mr. Vale said it would be “nothing like a beer hall,” but would be an up-market venue with eateries and entertainment at its core. 

Inner West Mayor, Darcy Byrne, has welcomed the proposal to turn the Hub into a craft beer embassy. He called the Inner West the “undisputed craft brewing capital of Australia” and said it would be a “perfect fit” given the council’s decision to designate Enmore Road a Special Entertainment Precinct.  

“Sampling craft beer before strolling down Enmore Road to catch a show could become one of the great Sydney experiences,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

From vaudeville to erotica

Some locals have questioned the move, saying the decision to transform the space into a classy craft-brewery joint doesn’t do its historic legacy justice.

The Hub started its life in 1913 as the Bridge Theatre. It was built and operated by Australian variety entertainment entrepreneur Harry Clay and was home to Newton’s only live vaudeville show in the early 20th century. 

A photo of the Bridge Theatre in the early 20th century. Photo: Newtown Jubilee Souvenir 1862-1922

Following Clay’s death in 1925, the vaudeville show ran for a few more years before the theatre was leased out and converted into a cinema in 1934. In the 1950s and 60s it was used to screen non-English-language films for the large population of migrant workers in the area.

But in the early seventies The Hub’s cinematic offerings took a turn to the risque, and it became an infamous ‘blue movie house’. A sign on the building’s facade at the time promised “non stop films,” “adult live shows,” and “best up erotica.” 

The “non stop” adult films finally stopped in the mid 1990s when the cinema closed down. Aside from a few bric-a-brac markets and live show bookings, the building has remained empty since. 

Though Bridge Theatre has changed hands and names, and seen many kinds of patrons pass through its doors, it is possibly the only purpose-built vaudeville house still in existence in Australia. It even survived a time bomb blast in the 1970s which destroyed five rows of seating and broke several windows.

Mr. Vale says under his plan the building’s heritage value will be respected and the show will go on. He promises the venue will host live music, stand up comedy, drag nights and cult movie nights among other offerings. 

“The most important thing is that it will remain a 1913 vaudeville theatre and the integrity of the building won’t be touched. We’ll be creating something groundbreaking,” Mr. Vale told Brews News.

The building’s current layout allows for 1,000 audience members to be seated over two floors. Mr. Vale said these original architectural features will be retained and his new venue would have a reduced capacity of 650. 

The Inner West Council is yet to be formally approached regarding the proposal but Mr. Vale says he expected the venue to be operational in 12 to 16 months.

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