Manacle has survived. When the Barracks closed its doors six months ago and the lights were off for six weeks, Sydney lost its only leather bar (of sorts) and the scene swelled with miserable (yet butch-looking) dudes. Former barflies Stuart and Andrew found themselves managing the venue, armed with lots of ideas and carte blancheÂ from the new owners.
Five months and two robberies later, the guys are feeling almost optimistic.
We’ve had an interesting, creative and difficult winter and we think leading into Sleaze Ball things are on the turn, Stuart says. Andrew jumps in.
It has been a really hard winter, he says. And I think Taylor Square’s had a lot to do with it. It’s been a hard slog. But we’re sort of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and we don’t think it’s an oncoming train.
We’re sitting in their office at Manacle on a Sunday evening, in what used to be an under-used pinball atrium. Outside, punters are enjoying Clan, a weekly mixed leather event that would have been unheard of at the old Barracks. (Mixed means women and men -“ not cowhide and suede). Sunday roasts are being served downstairs; DJ Chip plays from 8pm and the clientele are a strapping bunch, a mix of leather aficionados and tracksuit-panted pool players. Stuart explains.
The day club is helping soften the image. There’s a classic case of a guy came into day club a couple of weeks ago, had always been terrified to walk down the stairs. And we probably don’t understand that, so it’s hard to keep that it mind, he says.
But there is this huge group of guys that are scared to come down here for what they have heard or perceived goes on. Sure it’s got a leather flavour but -“
Andrew finishes the sentiment. Welcome to everyone. That’s the thing. There are a number of misconceptions about this place. The first weekend that we had the mixed Sunday we had some girls come down here who were most irate that they couldn’t find the backroom -¦ I think the Barracks had this mythology built up around it, and we’ve inherited it.
Hardcore leatherfolk new to the scene might think the venue’s lost a certain edge, but the venue’s broader calendar belies this. Members of Sydney Leather Pride and Sydney Leather Men should already be aware of the various social events already held down those stairs. Andrew elaborates.
We do have leather nights on the first and the third Saturdays of the month. On the second Saturdays of the month we have rubber nights. We are looking at introducing, on the fourth Saturday of the month, a uniform night -¦ he says.
We’re looking at introducing other themed nights because, if you are into any of those fetishes, there is nowhere else that you can comfortably go -¦
Andrew adds, Look at us, we drank here for seven years -¦ because it was comfortable, it was home. That’s what we’re aiming for it to feel like again.
There are more events they’re keen to point out, including a latex and bondage photographic exhibition opening on 22 September and, significantly, the Dolphin Motorcycle Club will hang their club shield at the bar this Sunday.
It’s on the way, Stuart says, of his eventual vision for the venue. It’s a work in progress.
And it always will be, Andrew adds. The thing is that if a venue remains static then it dies.