Through an unassuming doorway and up a flight of stairs, you’ll find Tosh Lanyon slinging cocktails and holding court at Ching-a-Lings, one of Oxford Streets most hidden gems. He told Andrew M Potts about the humble origins of Sydney’s drinking straw ban.
How long have you been working at Ching-a-lings?
I’ve been managing the bar for three and a half years. I’d always worked in hospitality before but this was the first bar that I jumped into. Fortunately it’s been really fun and I love booking the DJs and shows here.
How would you describe the venue?
We’re an upstairs small bar with a rooftop beer garden. In terms of the vibe, we want it to feel very much like you’re at a house party where everyone is invited.
Our clientele are really mixed and we often host people who wouldn’t normally rub shoulders with each other, which is good because we want the place to be inclusive of everyone no matter what their stripes. We don’t want a standoffish kind of vibe between the groups that use this space or for some people to feel like they shouldn’t come in.
The movement to ban plastic drinking straws in Sydney actually began in Ching-a-Lings. How did that happen?
My sister Sasha had made a sign behind the bar here saying “straws suck unless you have a doctors certificate” and we stopped serving straws. City of Sydney councillor Jess Miller came in one night and saw what we were doing and thought it was a really awesome initiative, and she ended up taking the campaign to the whole of the inner city and beyond with the Sydney Doesn’t Suck movement.
A lot of people don’t know, but Australians use 3.6 billion drinking straws each year and they can’t be recycled so they either end up in landfill or the ocean.
Was there any blowback from customers when you got rid of straws?
Yeah. Particularly from people who wear lipstick. But when we explained the reason we didn’t serve straws most people came on board with it. There were only a really small number of people who couldn’t accept it.
For a while we had no straws at all in the bar but some people do need them for medical reasons so we do have paper straws available for those who need them.
You have a very eclectic mix of DJs playing through the week. What is the musical range that people can expect to encounter?
We’re very genre fluid. We play a lot of house, disco, funk. Sometimes we host a Brazilian night. It’s something different every night.
What’s your favourite house cocktail at the moment?
The Weed Slut. It’s a frozen cocktail with white rum, lychees, lime, mint and sugar and it’s sexy and green.
Since you work at night, what do you do to make sure you stay active during the day?
It’s tempting to veg out when you work nights but I go to the gym, I do naked yoga, I do indoor rock climbing and I dabble in a bit of gymnastics.
Would you say that your role as a small bar manager is much more about being a host to your customers compared to a larger venue?
There’s definitely much more of a personal touch required. We don’t want a robotic customer service feel. I’ve made a lot of friends working here so I do like to sit down and hang out with everyone. Ching-a-Lings has become a small community in itself.
What’s the inspiration for Nette Manoir, the monthly free queer night you put on?
Nette Manoir is on the second Thursday of each month. The name comes from the 90s cartoon Angela Anaconda. There was this character on the show called Nanette Manoir who was such a hot icon to me growing up. The name sounds a little bit fancy, which Ching-a-Lings is not, but Nette Manoir sprinkles a bit of glitter through the venue as a queer party.
Nette Manoir is about giving up-and-coming queer artists somewhere to perform, and it’s an alternative queer space for Oxford Street. Oxford Street can often be one massive party for gay men but I wanted something that’s more intimate and more inclusive of all queer people.
What are some of the standout acts that have performed so far?
At our last party we featured Lavrence, who is a Sydney singer and songwriter, Blaq, who is an Ethiopian Australian gender non-conforming queer artist, and Alice Sadness, an international baby drag queen all the way from Switzerland!
Earlier in the year we had an incredible voluptuous Sydney burlesque performer, Themme Fatale, do this amazing act where they performed inside one of those sea-shell kids pools. Themme poured cream and froot loops all over themself to the song Milkshake by Kelis, It was amazing. A lot of the audience got involved and poured cream all over Themme. The whole performance was really body positive and it made a lot of people think differently, which I think is really fun.
You DJ at Nette Manoir and sometimes at Canned Fruit Wedsgays at Secret Garden Bar in Enmore. Is that something you’re looking to do more of?
Yes definitely! Because I’m always at my bar I don’t really venture out to many other events but as I DJ more I definitely want to start performing at more cool queer events around Sydney. There’s just so much going on!
I understand your dad made you a cute little stage for your parties?
He did! He was actually the one to come up with the idea to make it, which was really sweet. He figured drag queens needed a stage so he started building one at home and we just tried it out at our last party. It’s good to give Ching-a-Lings more of a theatrical feel.
Your bar has also been hosting the Going Zodiac parties. Can you tell me about them?
It’s run by Sydney drag queen Sunday Best. Going Zodiac is an awesome queer event that usually happens on the first Sunday of the month, though this month it’s on the 15th. It’s a fun, cool, queer space where people can talk about astrology and perform.
You have vitiligo which is the same skin condition that Michael Jackson had. When did it first start to develop?
It appeared when I was nine years old. It happened virtually overnight, which is kind of scary for someone that age, and I lost a lot of the pigmentation on my leg.
Kids can be a bit cruel and having a white leg in primary school and going into highschool wasn’t great for me, but coming into adulthood I’ve actually learned to love it and I wouldn’t change it now if I could. It’s not something I hide because it’s something that makes me, me. One of my friends really likes it and says it looks like I have leopard spots on my leg.
You’re part of a Mardi Gras marching group, the Shellharbour Shag-Harders. Can you tell us about that?
It actually started with my aunties and uncles in the 90s as a marching group for people from the Illawarra region. They did it two years in a row. Then twenty years later my auntie convinced my cousin Sally to revive it. We got a group of about ten of our cousins, plus some other close family and friends and resurrected it in 2012. Since then, we march every year!
Ching-a-Lings is at Level 1, 133 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst.