Nothing says gentrification like The Imperial Hotel, one of Newtown’s most iconic LGBTI pubs, being turned into a fine dining venue. But alas, that is the fate of our beloved Erskinville pub, which sold for $6.5 million.
Former owner Shadd Danesi has kept the venue closed while he negotiated it’s fate with authorities. Walking past down Erskinville Road it is a sorry site, with dramatically boarded up windows and motivational graffiti saying things like “We Still Believe”. But this is soon to change, as it has now been handed on to publicans Scott Leach, president of the NSW branch of the Australian Hotels Association and owner of the Rose of Australia Hotel, and Fraser Short, of Morrison’s Bar and Grill and Watson’s Bay Hotel.
The publicans have said that they recognise the importance of the hotel to the LGBTQI community, but also indicated that they would take it in a new direction, outlining a $3 million dollar renovation including a high end restaurant. They’ve said that they will be consulting with the local LGBTQI community in the coming months as they refurbish the venue.
“We have stepped up because we are passionate about [the Imperial’s] future. It will remain shut in the short term but we are injecting funds immediately to start creating a modern food and beverage option for the venue.” Leach said.
“This will include the introduction of a custom kitchen and high-end restaurant business to meet the local community demand.”
The Imperial Hotel first ran into trouble when former owner Danesi leased the space to Spice International, transforming the ground level of the venue into Spice Cellar ERSKNVL every Friday and Saturday night. Spice Cellar used to be located as an after hours club in Martin Place, but made the move due to lockouts. The lease got a huge amount of media coverage and quickly went out of control for several reasons. A hugely popular institution, the venue reached capacity as early as 10pm on some weekends, with hundreds of people lining up outside. As a result, the venue was regularly scrutinised by police, who reported massive regular breaches of RSA and drug laws, including staff openly using drugs and serving alcohol to highly intoxicated patrons. The Imperial Hotel was twice subject to a 72-hour closure order by the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, on both occasions due to drug related activity. The second time, it didn’t reopen.
I think it’s important to mention here that if police really want to get a liquor venue shutdown, they will. That isn’t to say that The Imperial Hotel didn’t need to fix up their act. But when you put it into the perspective of, say, comparing it to the Star Casino, which has repeatedly been recognised as the most violent late night venue in Sydney, yet has been subject to almost no consequences, the onslaught seems pretty ridiculous.
It’s a shame that we’re losing such an iconic venue, and that the structure of Sydney is shifting, but at least they had a damn good run.