ONE of Brisbane’s iconic LGBTI-friendly venues has reopened following wide-ranging renovations designed to breathe new life into the heritage building.
The renovations to the Wickham Hotel in Fortitude Valley has seen most the of the venue closed for many months but doors swung open to patrons on Monday.
“When the Wickham turned gay in 1996, it rode the crest of the wave of social progression by becoming a gay bar, and the hotel continues to be a trailblazer with the most recent changes,” Wickham spokesperson Patrick Macdonald told the Star Observer.
Since renovations began on the heritage-listed building, whose history dates back to the 1880s, one sticking point for some in the LGBTI community has been the plans for the new venue to attract a more “mixed” patronage.
Reflecting on recent renovations to previously dedicated LGBTI-friendly Sydney venues, The Bank and Newtown Hotel, that now attract a wider range of clientele, Macdonald said that there was no reason similar venues could not work in Brisbane.
“By all accounts the Wickham used to just organically be a lot more mixed back in the 90s. Unfortunately, in recent times, it’s been viewed as quite unwelcoming for straight, as well as many gay, people,” he said.
“It’s actually been the Brisbane community who have demanded it change to a much more appealing and welcoming environment for everyone.
“We’ve seen similar concepts prove successful in other states, but this concept of a gay bar that’s also appealing to other friends, foodies and cultural seekers on a scale of this size is really visionary.”
Macdonald said that hotel owner Coles was just responding to a general sense in the LGBTI and wider community that the venue needed to charter a new course in Brisbane.
“Brisbane has been crying out for a quality bar where LGBTI people and their friends can go, and the Wickham is simply listening and responding to public demand,” he said.
“I think Brisbane people are fed up with the current LGBTI scene and are excited at the prospect of a venue that respects their standards and will be appealing to their friends as well.”
The new-look hotel now boasts of a complete rejuvenation of the ground floor, a brand new Victorian era-inspired nightclub upstairs – that has been designed to cater directly to LGBTI patrons – and a conversion of the old carpark into a “vibrant outdoor laneway oasis”.
Along with a Las Vegas/Asian-influenced gaming room and a transformed outside seating area, for the first time in years patrons will be able to use the upstairs balcony for an unsurpassed view of Wickham St.
Speaking to concerns that the Wickham was losing its LGBTI identity, Macdonald said that the venue was delivering on its commitment to the community by offering more LGBTI-friendly spaces.
“The hotel is nearly doubling its ground level footprint, as well as opening upstairs too. This means the LGBTI community will now have a choice between four new, quality places under the one roof, each with its own unique offer and varying degrees of campness,” he said.
“The changes will actually bring more choice to the Brisbane scene, and provide the LGBTI community with the quality that is lacking in the other venues.”
The fact that the Pride flag no longer flies on the outside façade of the hotel has been another point of contention within the community.
Macdonald was keen to point out that pride colours can still be seen in bright lights in the venue’s large outside “Wickham” sign.
New artwork in the downstairs bar features prominent messages and symbols of the LGBTI community and will be hard to miss by new clientele, he added.
Every Saturday night will see the new upstairs nightclub become the dedicated home to the popular Precious parties.
“We also have a new Sunday afternoon offer downstairs and will be making many more exciting entertainment announcements in the coming weeks,” Macdonald said.
He also hoped to dispel the misconception that Brisbane is the “sleepy cousin” to other LGBTI communities and venues in Sydney and Melbourne.
“The LGBTI community might view Brisbane as sleepy because that’s what they are used to being given in the Brisbane LGBTI scene. The Wickham will be a game changer and will actually reflect the vibrant and diverse community that it is representing,” Macdonald said.
“In Brisbane, times have changed, people have changed, and our venue needs to reflect that. To fail to progress as a venue would be to fail to acknowledge how far we’ve come as a city.”
(Main image credit: David Alexander; Star Observer)