THE new owners of iconic inner west Sydney’s gay-friendly bar The Imperial Hotel have exclusively told the Star Observer that LGBTI events will continue to form a “core part” of the pub’s offering despite concerns the focus may now be on straight clubbers.
Spice Group International (SGI), who will take over from late April 2015, said the Harbour City Bears and Melbourne gay party TroughX were already booked in for an event in early May.
As well as moving the Spice Cellar club – which bills itself as “unique, European and underground,” – into the Erskineville venue, SGI is also promising a refit of The Imperial, which was made famous by seminal queer Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Founder of SGI, Murat Kilic, said the new owners would adopt a “staged approach” to any changes.
“When we first go into the project, there won’t be any monumental changes, but more so refinements of product offerings, better sound systems and striking entertainment throughout the venue,” said Kilic, who also DJs at Spice Cellar.
He added that each space would be given a makeover “without compromising the existing art deco character and heritage bones of the building”.
The front bar – rechristened The Imperial Bar – is to become a “casual and accessible social hub” under the eye of Erskineville local Mike McGarth who was most recently at Redfern small bar Black Penny.
Meanwhile, the Priscilla Bar becomes The Lounge, and Spice Cellar itself will take up residence downstairs.
Asked about concerns the venue will no longer cater to an LGBTI crowd, Kilic confirmed to the Star Observer that The Imperial would be “mixed” but highlighted that was the case currently.
“The venue already has a mixed crowd and we want to embrace the ideas of culture, community and diversity,” he said.
“By curating a mixed program of events and an open-minded door policy, the Imperial will become a melting pot of diversity and reunite with its illustrious past as a place for the people – no prejudice, striking world class entertainment and good honest fun.”
Kilic also promised the pub would feature specific LGBTI content: “LGBTI events will form a core part of the ongoing entertainment roster with Jonny Seymour from Kooky acting as the cultural ambassador for the venue.”
A Sunday social each week with DJs on rotation will also be curated, and although Kilic wouldn’t commit to a refreshed Priscilla show, he said drag is on the menu.
“Wednesday nights in the Lounge will be dedicated to weekly live cabaret and drag although there will be spot performances at the venue over the weekend as well to continue the Sydney tradition,” he said.
While it was a “common assumption” the controversial lockouts were a key factor behind Spice Cellar’s move from Sydney’s CBD to the inner west, Kilic said the club simply needed a bigger venue.
“Since its inception in 2004, the clubbing brand Spice has changed venues nine times, with evolution and change being a core part of the growth,” he said.
“The Imperial Hotel Erskineville provides the perfect location for the next chapter.”
The new management said staff numbers were being expanded and a “hybrid of staff from the Spice Cellar and The Imperial Hotel” would work at the venue, but they did not rule out some existing staff leaving the organisation.