New venue aims to bring back a touch of Bohemia - The Age
New venue aims to bring back a touch of Bohemia - THE AGE: Saturday, January 16, 2010
By Andrew Murfett / Photo by Craig Abraham
IT'S a uniquely Melbourne debate, centred on a murky body of water that divides the city culturally and geographically.
For a long time, when it comes to arts and culture, those hailing from the inner north - think Fitzroy, Northcote, Coburg - have claimed a superiority over those based on the south side of the Yarra - Prahran, Windsor, St Kilda and Albert Park.
It has not helped that the inner south's largest strip of bars and clubs, on Chapel Street, has developed a reputation as increasingly anti-social and aggressive. Last year, an 18 per cent rise in assaults was reported in the City of Stonnington, which takes in South Yarra and Prahran.
Yet a small group of youthful Melbourne entrepreneurs from the Chapel Street precinct are eager to reverse that perception.
Next month they will open Red Bennies, a venue that aims to restore Chapel Street's long-lost reputation as an arts and Bohemian destination.
The irony in their choice of location - in South Yarra, between Commercial Road and Toorak Road, at the former site of one of the strip's most notorious clubs, The Viper Room - is unmistakable.
Yesterday group members Chris Mitchell, Garrath Holt and Daniel Teuma were working among a cluster of tradesmen, attempting to ready the venue for its opening early next month.
Mr Mitchell said renovations began four weeks ago, after the liquor licence was transferred.
"This place was a den," he said, of the old Viper Room, located almost opposite Chasers.
Still, the idea for an arts/cultural space, a combination of the Spiegeltent and the now-defunct Continental Cafe, was hatched several years ago. It would encompass music, performance art and dance.
Mr Mitchell and his partners are aiming high. "We want to give people something you can't get anywhere else," he said. "We want to educate the public about these arts."
The group spoke yesterday of those who live south of the city having to frequently travel to the north side for much of their arts consumption.
"But there a lot of creative people on this side that are not being catered for," he said. "They are being forced to travel. There's not really anybody doing what we'll do."
Mr Mitchell said he grew up on Greville Street in the 1980s and was nostalgic about recapturing the charm.
"It used to have a lot more heart around here," he said. "Hopefully we can get it back. We need to generate some culture on this side."
The venue will combine burlesque, circus and live music with table service. A high-end drinks list encompasses more than 100 cocktails.
Frostbites this is not.
"What's going on here in Chapel Street now is mostly house music, electronic and pretty shallow stuff," he said. "But coming here will be an old-fashioned night out."