“I had just come from the Occupy Melbourne protest, and as I came up Smith Street I saw fridges being wheeled out of the venue. I asked what was happening. The last owner was struggling to pay bills, and there was interest in some people who wanted to take it over and turn into a burger shop. I had 48 hours to make a counteroffer.”
From struggling dive bar to thriving business, since 2011 Anthony Wallace has singled handily built up the 86 Bar to become one of, if not the most irreverent queer performance space in Melbourne.
“From the very start the premise of the 86 was done not by someone that was trying to look good by having a bar or making money off a bar, it was literally someone thinking that they were doing something good for the community not knowing it would take over their life.”
On any given night, a colourful crowd dressed in their finery can be seen spilling out of the unassuming doorway and onto Smith Street. As you enter through red velvet drapes, the mood inside is electric, people packed shoulder to shoulder.
“The vibe is fun and upbeat and colourful, there is a real creative buzz, people come to Honcho because they feel free to express themselves, so that’s the performers, the crowd. People come to see the shows because people keep pushing their art. Its fully inclusive, Honcho is there for the minorities that usually don’t get catered for.”
What event organiser, John Pant says here is true, the calibre of performance at the 86 is regularly world class but also always accommodating of wild card performers, those just coming up through the ranks.
“The Fishnets, when they started to perform their own songs, they did a performance with a pillow fight at the end, they set a tone for performers to push their craft, it was a real turning point for the night…. And for our mess making on stage. Looking back at that, it was when it really turned a corner for me.”
“We started with the idea a couple of months ago. Because even if we start to open up again, we are not going to be a ‘club’ club again for a long while. We came up with the Jam Tram, it was about making something that people like, something that’s indulgent.
“The other day, this woman came up to me and told me she’d had the best 15 minutes since the start of lockdown, watching people dance and have a donut. It had bought such joy to her, and that’s it.”