Tag Archives: bars

Art Bars

The idea of an art bar is an appealing concept. Let us take a quick pub crawl through modern art history: to the bars of Montmartre where Toulouse-Lautrec drank, to the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, to the cafés of Paris where the Surrealists drank, to the Cedar Bar in New York where the Abstract Expressionists drank, to the Colony Room in London where Francis Bacon drank. Any bar will do. It is not the atmosphere, nor the type, nor the quantity of alcohol that matters but the quality company with which it is consumed. What is important is the culture of the drinkers and the culture of drinking.

Lord Ivy Art Lounge has a good location amongst the art galleries of Flinders Lane and full-page adverts in Art Almanac. However when I visited the art was too bland for my taste. Fad Gallery Bar also advertises an art connection but it has never been open when I’ve been in the area. There are plenty of bars in the city with a more artistic atmosphere. And there are plenty of pubs and bars in Melbourne that have had the occasional art exhibition.

There are many pubs and bars that have contributed to Melbourne’s music scene (not just rock or jazz but many kinds of music, even experimental music). They have also contributed to Melbourne’s live comedy scene, theatre scene and other vibrant aspects of our culture. Victoria’s liquor licensing laws have not helped Melbourne’s once world famous live music scene. There are only a few places left that I once played with my band still have live music – they have all closed or become ‘Irish’ pubs. Thousands of words have been written about the closure of the Tote in January 2010 in both newspapers, like The Age, and blogs, like Man About Town.

The changes in Victoria that have allowed more liquor licences in the city have had an impact on the culture, some artist run spaces and small galleries partially subsidize their operation with the licensed sale of alcohol. I don’t know if the argument of increased availability leading to increased consumption is anything more than a simplistic analysis of complex behaviour. Certainly prohibition has never worked to decrease consumption. The 2 am lockout did not change anything. The old restricted drinking hours and premises of the old Australian 5 o’clock swill did not create a positive drinking culture.

I prefer the liquor licence standards of Europe rather that Australia. Current Victorian legislation reminds me of the prohibition in 1915 of the most famous artistic drink, absinthe, by the United States and most European countries. It is simply moral panic and lacks supporting evidence. The re-introduction of absinthe to the world market has not had any measurable negative impact, nor will changes to the current laws. (I find that a metal tea strainer is an adequate substitute for the ornate absinthe spoons to suspend a sugar cube on.)

For more information about Melbourne’s bars, pubs and clubs read Melbourne Nightlife Blog or My, Aching Head (or one of the hundreds of blogs that review that scene.

Croft Alley Project

Don't Ban the CanThe Don’t Ban the Can street art awareness Croft Alley Project on Saturday, September 12th was massive. I was there, being the responsible citizen journalist blogger covering the event. Using my eyes and ears to get a first hand report. The Don’t Ban the Can organizers recognized that I was a member of the media and handed me a blue “Official Media” pass. The pass got me through the queue at the start of Croft Alley. There was a queue because of the limit to the number of people that they were letting in to the alley for fire safety.

Croft Alley off Little Bourke St. in Chinatown is narrow, hemmed in by the concrete walls of the buildings on either side. I slowly work my way down the narrow alleyway around the corner. Past dozen’s of artists at work, the smell of aerosol paint in the air. At the far end of Croft Alley there is the Croft Institute, another one of Melbourne’s laneway bars. The Lab bar, in the Croft Institute has a laboratory décor, with a large lab flask of blue coloured water bubbling on the “Electrothermal”. Upstairs there is a bar decorated like an old gym with old “Acromat” sports equipment and a bar made of old lockers. I make my way to the bar like Hunter S. Thompson and buy a beer, to drink and think.

The Lab decor

The Lab decor

Why I am writing about this? Why do I think that street art is important? “…when there burst forth from one mansion a song of youth and originality, even though harsh and discordant, it should be received not with howls of fury but with reasonable attention and criticism.” Max Rothschild wrote defending the Italian Futurists in 1912. And a century on this is still sage advice in respect to the Futurists, rock music, punks or street art.

The Croft Alley Project was like a futurist wet dream, the artists painting the city a riot of dynamic colors surrounded by adoring crowds. There were many notable Melbourne street artists spraying in Croft Alley. I recognize Braddock from his images even though he is wearing an improvised bandana to protect himself from the fumes (most of the other artists had proper masks to protect them from the paint fumes). Beside him Tom Civil was unpacking his latest stencils.

I can’t comment on the individual pieces as many were still being painted – I will have to go back for another look. It was hard to see any of the pieces given the number of people in the alley. But there were plenty of people photographing and videoing the event with everything from mobile phones to large video cameras with boom microphones. One cameraman was climbing the walls to get a better shot. These are kind of crowds that you only see at blockbuster exhibitions. One reason for the crowd was the excellent weather, warm with high winds that sucked most of the aerosol fumes out of the urban canyon. Is this really great art or just a passing popular fancy? In the 19th Century Londoners queued around city blocks to see the work of ‘Mad’ John Martin, whose extravagant paintings are now largely forgotten having almost no influence on subsequent painters.

crowds in Croft Alley

crowds in Croft Alley

As I was watching Drew Funk paint, moving and spraying to the drum and bass rhythms of the DJ Kodiak Kid, pausing to clear the nozzle of his spray can. I thought: this is “action painting” like old old New York skool, 10th St. School, commonly known as “abstract expressionist”. It is action painting, it even has an audience, just not as Harold Rosenberg knew it. Further along the alley a woman in short and high heels balances on a milk crate spraying a voluptuous female character onto the wall. She has an audience watching her stretch to spray paint. It was Debs, who is well known for her spray painted sexy female characters, and it gave a new angle to her popularity.

Debs painting in Croft Alley

Debs painting in Croft Alley

This is Melbourne’s street art’s response to the anti-graffiti laws and lobby – a well-organized, legal, well-attended, fun event of propaganda by deed. According to the organizers over 2,000 people visited Croft Alley on Saturday and over 40 artists from around Australia were involved. I will have to go back to Croft Alley to have a look at the art left behind.

Bloggers & Tweeter Drinks

I went for drinks with some of Melbourne’s bloggers and tweeters, unfortunately the whole thing turned into a debacle as Sister Bella’s was closed. It is pleasant to stand around or even eat in some of Melbourne’s lanes but Sinder Lane is not one of them due to the smell of garbage. Trendy as these laneways are with all their bars and street art, the rubbish bins are a reminder of their true function as service lanes for deliveries and garbage collection.

Michael had organized another Melbourne Blogger and Tweeter drinks. Michael writes the blog My Aching Head and at Sister Bella’s on Sinder Lane (off Drewery Lane, off Little Lonsdale) was his choice of venue. I went to the last blogger drinks that Michael had organized back at the end of May. This was the first time that there were tweeters at the drinks. I don’t tweet (too many tweet might make a twat).

I meet up with two women who were also looking for the blogger and tweeters drinks. One of them was Vetti who writes Vetti: Live in Northcote. Vetti writes about life, food, op-shopping and interesting things.

On finding the bar closed the tweeter tweeted this information and an alternate plan. However, even with all this cutting edge communication Michael still had to go and wait at Sister Bella’s for any stragglers. We went to Section 8 in Tattersalls Lane which was open. Section 8 is a container bar; basically two shipping containers behind a chain-link fence on an empty lot in the city. One of the shipping containers has been converted into a bar with a large window cut along one side. It was crowded and the three of us had trouble finding somewhere to sit. There are more Drew Funk murals on the wall. I had just seen him spraying over at Don’t Ban The Can’s Croft Alley Project. On the walk to Sister Bella’s I had seen another one of his murals on the side of Chinese restaurant. The man’s work is all over the city.

Back to the subject of blogging and to blow my own trumpet – this blog has now had 40,000 hits. I believe that I have attracted this number of readers because I have written about other people (generally interesting artists) rather than myself. I have done research, thought, fact checked, asked people, found relevant links and put the leg-work in to see things for myself before reporting on them. There is also very little competition in writing about the visual arts and so much to write about. I wish that there were more bloggers writing about the arts and culture.

I noticed that my old blog, Culture Critic @ Melbourne, has been closed by its host, Arts Hub. I will consider republishing some of the entries on this blog and rewrite others.

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