Only one year ago Oxford Street went absolutely berserk with a cacophony of international trade. The Gay Games brought a feeling of excitement to Oxford Street that was arguably unprecedented: a claim challenged only by the glory days of Mardi Gras weekends.

At the centre of it all was the old Westpac Building, frantically refurbished as a new bar and launched just in time. The crowds soaked it up, filling the venue so tight it was difficult to fully appreciate the decor, which was for a Sydney gay bar remarkably schmick. Oh yes, the decor was deliciously, stylishly cocoa, with the parrot-stained mirror and faux animal skin poufs offering a queer quasi-jungle. More significantly, it featured an open air bar facing the street, signalling a liberated departure from gay venues of yore. Gone was the darkened glass, the heightened sense of privacy, the suggestion of a licensed closet.

Manager Steven Ferry, who joined the staff in January, acknowledges the change.

This place is, I think, a breath of fresh air, Ferry says. It’s clean, has clean lines, there’s nothing really sleazy about it. It’s fresh, we like the light, we’re not scared of the light. Their idea was to raise the bar, to give something new on the street.

Ferry refers to licensee Terry Tournoff who, with a dedicated staff, has created a bar Ferry refers to as a gay and lesbian venue which is straight-friendly. It’s a rare moment when the use of gay and lesbian isn’t completely flippant and tokenistic.

I think we’ve created an environment where it is gay- and lesbian-friendly and they’re relaxed, because it is their venue, but also educated to a certain degree that this is not just a boys’ bar, to a certain degree, that this is not just a girls’ bar, Ferry says.

A lot of our advertising throughout the year has been aimed at the girls, to get the girls to come out. God knows they go through enough venues as it is! We’ve got lesbian bartenders, and a lesbian manager. On both levels we get girl DJs in as well as the boy DJs. So it’s been a juggling act in that sense.

The mix is reflected in the first birthday celebrations. Friday night will feature all women DJs and is aimed squarely at the lesbian crowd, while Saturday has men DJs and a gay male focus. On Sunday, the aim is for everyone to rock on up.

We’re opening at midday on the Sunday and we’re going to glide in through the afternoon, Ferry says, outlining an afternoon of cocktails and the presentation of a small gift for patrons on entry. In the spirit of giving something back, punters are asked to donate $2 on Sunday, for which they’ll receive a raffle ticket to win a trip to Cairns. All proceeds from the raffle will go to the Luncheon Club, with prizes donated by Accor Hotels and Liberty Resort.

In keeping with the subtle existing jungle decor, Ferry says they’ve spent a shitload of cash at the florists, to create a canopy effect upstairs and a rainforest downstairs. Bongos and acoustic drums by La Fiesta Sound System and Levi 5 Star blend with a DJ line-up including Roger Z and Lexie Bradfield to complete the effect.

It’ll be a jungle in there, although Ferry notes that the Colombian’s clientele are typically (and thankfully) more sophisticated than your average barfly.

The one thing I’ve noticed here is we have relatively few problems or issues with patrons, Ferry says. What I think we’ve created is an environment that people actually respect.

The Colombian’s first birthday celebrations are on this Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. For full DJ listings, see the Guide listings in this issue.

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