A little after 3:30pm last Friday 2 November, staff at the Newtown Hotel were told the gay venue would be shutting its doors.
The Newtown Hotel family, headed by local identities Roger Z and Jess, had until Monday to bid farewell to their customers and vacate the premises.
But by 6am Saturday the hotel locks had been changed and security guards were patrolling the building.
How the Newtown Hotel came to close will generate community controversy for months to come, as license owner David McHugh from McHugh Holdings goes to battle with the building owners in the courts.
McHugh had been renegotiating the terms of the lease for the next 25 years, when on Friday the property owners, formally listed as Newtown Colonial Hotel Pty Ltd, refused to negotiate further.
It was bad enough copping only two days notice, but we were shut out by Saturday morning, he said.
We at least needed that last weekend of trade, it was an important gesture not only to staff, but to customers.
McHugh said the terms of the long-term lease involved a substantial investment and he had been seeking a compromise with the owners.
SSO contacted a director of Newtown Colonial Hotel Pty Ltd, Efthalia Kritikos, and the company’s registered office, Chris Koulinos and Associates, but both declined to comment.
McHugh Holdings, which owns a number of Sydney pubs including the Colombian and Kinselas, bought the lease for the Newtown Hotel five years ago. The previous owner, Dawn O’Donnell, had been running both the Newtown Hotel and the Imperial Hotel for about 20 years.
The closure of the Newtown Hotel has devastated the gay and lesbian community, Luncheon Club founder Carole Ann King said.
It has been so important for HIV/AIDS community support and to the drag fraternity, they raised more than $7000 for the Luncheon Club in only four months, she said.
It is going to be very difficult for people like Mitzi and Portia, who had regular events at the Imperial and the Newtown. With the Imperial closed for renovations, we have got major problems.
The unfortunate aspect of the closure, McHugh said, was that the company was not dramatically impacted, but the manager and staff and patrons will be deeply affected.
They did some hard yards there, it wasn’t the most beautiful building, but under the circumstances it became a very tight knit community – it was a family and they are left with nothing, he said.
Bars will come and go, and quite often they are forgotten, but this was an important one not only for Newtown but for the gay and lesbian community.
McHugh Holdings will attempt to renegotiate a lease with Newtown Colonial Hotel Pty Ltd, or trade elsewhere in Newtown as the Newtown Hotel. McHugh acknowledged that this could take a very long time.
The Newtown community placed a tombstone and message board at the door of the Newtown Hotel on Saturday. The makeshift monument has since been removed.
Say goodbye to the Newtown Hotel at Middle Bar on 16 November from 6pm.
Poll: Are you concerned for the future of Sydney’s gay and lesbian culture? Vote online at www.ssonet.com.au.
Your say: Post your memories of the Newtown Hotel on our forum at www.ssonet.com.au.

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