Manacle is not a leather bar. Let’s make that perfectly clear, right off the bat. Sydney Leather Men organiser Andrew Clarke is one of a small team entrusted with running the former Barracks Bar, and told Sydney Star Observer that while Manacle is not strictly a leather bar, the venue will have the most leathery feel that has been around for a while.

There will be nights where a dress code may be imposed but we’re probably thinking that at this stage it will be mostly restricted to the downstairs bar -¦ Clarke said. But we’ll encourage people that just throwing on a pair of sandshoes as you go out is not really making an event out of your night out.

The opening night crowd last Wednesday was certainly a mixed rack. The crowd shone in full leather, semi-leather (red leather, yellow leather), Canterbury/footie drag, flanno shirt chic and the odd business shirt. A fellow punter told me he had been there for the opening of the Barracks, but not the previous den, the Stronghold. He wasn’t into leather back then, he said, and his entr?to the scene was terrifying. I looked at him vaguely stunned -“ I couldn’t imagine him not wearing leather -“ then glanced around at the semi-fetish crowd. We all have to start somewhere, he said.

It was a relief to discover that everything the organisers had promised about the renovated/ reworked space had been realised. The music was hard in style but not in volume: there was atmosphere and I could still chat (up). Not that there’s anything wrong with doof (not to mention doof doof), but Manacle is not the Phoenix.

Having said that, some great DJs have been employed to play including Mike Kelly, Chip and Buck Naked -“ and the old barber’s chair has been replaced by a DJ booth.

Another welcome change is that the bar has been given a fresh lick of paint, the floor’s been scrubbed and the lighting is just right. All the atmosphere of the old Barracks is still there. It’s still dirty without being, well, quite so fucking disgusting. The walls are lined with posters from leather scene days of yore, and the fantastic bear/lion dudes mural in the old dungeon bar may well be expanded by the artist. I loved it.

This lower area is also going to be available for hire, to be used by a variety of different social groups or individuals. It’s a sensible idea, to use a space that midweek used to remain closed, and should enable the presence of those strange creatures who weren’t made welcome at the old bar: women.

Clarke told the Star that while Manacle will probably be a men’s space, they were still considering the possibility of offering mixed nights or events. Here’s hoping they follow through. On the opening night I saw two women turned away -“ leather aficionados who were disappointed and angry. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a keen advocate of split-gender spaces at Mardi Gras parties and otherwise. But it would be a shame if Manacle kept Sydney’s only leathery bar men-only, every night of the week.

All in all, for leather men at least, Manacle has to be good news. Here’s to a leather(y) future.

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