by The Active Agent
4 December 2013
It’s amazing to think that a bar with no visible street presence, that holds less than 50 people and is hidden away on the first floor of a laneway building this week won the Time Out Bar of the Year award.
Well done Bulletin Bar.
As it’s five years since the opening of a bar in a small laneway called Sussex Lane signalled the beginning of a new phase in how we spend our evenings, its perhaps time to reflect, take stock of that journey.
For too long, if you wanted to go out with friends, have a drink and share stories in an environment without plasma TV’s, pokie machines, sports memorabilia, or techno blaring out from all sides, with the accompanying behaviours, well your choices were, shall we say, limited, maybe to the local park bench. Small Bar was the first of the many small bars that changed this.
The existing licensed options were no longer what people wanted, but they responded to dwindling takings by… putting in more pokie machines, TV’s, sports memorabilia and turning the volume up.
What they failed to realise was the people visiting their bars were going for the pokies, TV’S, sports memorabilia and loud music, but they were generally not interested in hanging out, talking, buying food and having a drink, and the people that were interested in doing these things were becoming more and more isolated. They also happened to be slightly older, more mature people with apparently higher disposable incomes.
Europe’s history of laneway and bar culture was quite different experientially from what was on offer in the ‘beer barns’ that were dotted all over Sydney. Tokyo and New York had hidden licensed gems, attracting tourists, indeed Melbourne was building whole tourist campaigns around this stuff.
So when Small Bar opened in Sussex Lane in Nov 2008, it was a toe in the water before we all dived in.
Bars opened, people talked, great reviews came in and people queued, more bars opened and awards were won. Sydney bars Sticky Bar, Grasshopper Bar, Shady Pines, The Owl House, Pocket Bar, The Commons all won awards as bar of the year somewhere and suddenly the pubs, instead of complaining about this business model, started to realise, this is what people wanted and they possessed alcohol licences, so nothing was stopping them from offering the customer an experience, a positive experience around alcohol.
So along came The Norfolk, The Carrington and all those Fratelli Fresh style places opening as restaurants, or cafes, or produce outlets, or small bars or indeed shirt bars, which brings us nicely back to Sussex Lane.
These bars have changed what to expect in Sydney at night, they are globally recognised as a massive success story for Sydney. Support them, their offspring and second cousins because they are still a rare breed, indeed some of the newer versions, seem to have forgotten one thing. They were an alternative where people can talk… so turn the music down guys, let us talk, finish our drinks and then talk and buy some more!
Happy 5th Birthday Small Bar