Requiem for a dying pub: Remembering the Lansdowne Hotel

Lansdowne Hotel edited 9:8:2015

For over five years it was my pub. I know I’m not the first person to call it that, and even with the end coming I doubt I’ll be the last. It was one of the first places I went drinking after I turned 18, it was one of the last places I went drinking before I left Sydney behind. The Lansdowne Hotel was for me, as it was for generations who’d come before, a cornerstone of growing up. One of the key locations where my own coming of age story took place.

I can’t remember the first time I went there for a drink, but I remember the feelings it brought up. Sticky floors and tacky carpet, old torn posters on the wood-paneled walls, a battered pool table with wonky cues, a few worn but comfortable couches, high stools beneath higher tables, a row of taps in front of a wall of spirits, a couple of arcade and pinball machines near the door, pokies in a separate area that I can’t say I ever had the desire to enter. Clusters of students drinking beer around one table, a couple of old alcoholics sitting at the bar joined on occasion by the working class men so prominent in Jimmy Barnes’ thinking, stopping by for a quick schooner after work often still in their high-vis and steel caps. The smell of stale alcohol in the common areas and staler piss (with the occasional whiff of vomit and worse) in the bathrooms. I fell in love with the place immediately. It was everything I’d grown up expecting a pub to be, a little seedy and a little classless, but with a lot of heart and plenty of fun to be found, good grog and the natural charm that comes from bearing witness to the best and worst a society has to offer without judgement. But I might me romanticising a little. Or a lot. But, hey, first loves are a little like that, aren’t they.

It was a relationship that I fell into quickly. My best friend and I made a point of meeting up once a week during most of the semesters that we were both at Uni, and while there were plenty of drinking holes that we’d bounce between (Bar Broadway, Manning, Hermann’s, The Royal, Corridor, really hoping I don’t sound like an alcoholic right now) the Lansdowne was always our most frequent stop. Being so close to Uni, it was also a place where I spent a great deal of time with the people I met in my various classes. Drinking, laughing, listening, arguing, singing, sitting, chatting, bitching, drinking. Seriously though, not an alcoholic.

Anyway, some of the fondest memories I have of those years took place at the Lansdowne. Discussing future courses with one of my tutors and a half-dozen fellow students after the final tutorial of my first semester. Handing out relationship advice that I really have no right giving after a half-dozen scotch and cokes. Cheap steaks and absolutely excellent potato wedges in the upper floor beer garden. An enthusiastic barman pouring tasters of the more interesting beers on tap since it was a quiet afternoon and I’d expressed an interest, probably part of the origins of my own beer snobbery. Discussing films late into the night with folk who knew far more than I did, but listened to what I had to say anyway. Pausing a conversation to headbang along to the drop in No One Loves Me and Neither do I (’round the 2:15 mark) by Them Crooked Vultures. Arriving one weeknight to find a metal band whose name I never learned performing an absolutely fuckin’ amazing Queen cover. Chatting with a random old guy looking for some company while he drank, sharing a jug and a mutual love for the Dropkick Murphys. Sitting on the chairs outside and just watching the traffic passing by on the intersection of Parramatta and City Roads. Getting the pasta one fateful night and promptly deciding never ever to do something so foolish again. Simply talking.

That is what the Lansdowne was most for me. A place I could talk. It was my pub. A safe place without judgement or the anxiety it caused. It was a place where I could stretch out after a long day, week and month at uni or work and unload my troubles with the help of a friend or friends that cared, or help someone else unburden themselves. I went through some fucking dark times at university, but the Lansdowne was there for me as a place I could work through them. A part of my present where I could work through the past and stagger towards the future.

It changed a bit over the years. The red-headed bartender who didn’t know our names but new our preferred brew left and was replaced by a (I’m pretty sure we learnt she was) Thai girl who always poured the perfect beer and filled the jugs all the way to the top. A fire in 2013 was the cause for a round of renovations that left it lot cleaner and less battered, but still with a lot of its old personality. The menu, of course, shifted about as the kitchen staff obviously changed (the wedges stayed great, the pasta stayed shit). But it was always there, always a constant and what it meant to me (and the best mate I mentioned above) remained the same, so much so that a need to vent or relax or what have you could be announced with a single-worded text: “Lansdowne?”

Well, until now. It’s apparently been bought by the Academy of Music and Performing Arts, who are planning on turning it into a place of learning. A place of “study rooms, performance areas and recording studios.” Fuck me dead. I mean, yeah, fuck, they wanna turn it into a dance and musical theatre school. Just, good luck to’em I suppose, but I can’t help but feel I’m losing something important. Expect a lot of people are going to feel that way. It also doesn’t really matter that they’re going to try and leave it as a live music venue. It wasn’t just about the music (though for many that was definitely a defining part of its character), it was about the place itself. The history, culture and camaraderie that you only get in a proper pub. It was iconic and symbolic and the Lansdowne. What it was, what it is for at least the next few weeks, is being taken away from it. And that is tragic.

What’s got me is that I won’t be there for the end. My last schooner there was my last there. I can’t see it out properly, with a jug of good Aussie beer and a game of pool with its wonky cues, a cheap steak cooked medium rare in the beer garden, and a poor attempt to sing-along to whatever’s playing over the sound system. A good time with good mates before something that was so important to me ceases to be.

So I’ll simply have to say goodbye to the Lansdowne Hotel from here. Goodbye and good luck to whatever you become. You were too good for what the world is now.

If anyone’s in Sydney before it closes, do us a favour. Head in there and have a beer.

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