Legendary Sydney Live Music Venue The Basement to Be Resurrected by the Mary's Team

Come May, the space will be home to Mary's Underground — where live music, burgers and vegan-friendly pub fare will reign supreme.
Marissa Ciampi
Published on February 04, 2019

They're at it again. Sydney hospitality legends Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham (of Mary's, The Lansdowne, The Unicorn, P&V Wine and Liquor, Mary's Pizzeria) are set to add another notch to their ever-expanding belt. The duo has nabbed the digs of historic jazz venue The Basement, which closed after four decades of gigs back in April 2018. While another live music venue will take its place, it'll be a far cry from its predecessor.

Work on the new spot, called Mary's Underground, starts this week, with the venue slated to open in May. "We're just excited to throw a big party in the CBD every night," says Smyth.

That's the motto of the venture, which isn't going to be your standard 'dinner and a show' arrangement. Instead, expect hip hop, electro and rock 'n' roll acts to take the stage while you chow down.

"Jazz and blues will be an element but we certainly don't want to open a jazz venue," says Smyth. "We want to keep it young and vibrant, with musicians from the conservatory playing next to ratbags from Newtown [on a Saturday night], or some young punks ripping the face off jazz on Monday and Tuesday nights."

And the gigs will be free for diners, with a cover charge not starting until late. This close connection between food and music is emerging as an important part of the Mary's team's mantra.

"The Basement had such a history that tied food and music together," says Smyth. "I think rambunctious fun and music need to be tied in really carefully and tightly with food in an innovative way."

While the food side is still in the works, the focus will be on Euro-American eats with a Mary's "kick in the guts". Upstairs will house a casual bar serving the classic Mary's favourites — burgers, fried chicken and beers — along with a couple of vegan menu items. The kitchen team is working on a vegan version of its burger bun, too.

Plant-based dishes will also be a focus of the full-service restaurant downstairs, where the kitchen will take a more elevated approach to the food. "We want to make a restaurant where vegan and vegetarian isn't an afterthought," says Smyth. "It's not merely animal ethics, it's a wider sustainability issue."

The venue's third space will take the form of an intimate wine bar down the back, focusing on Australian drops in a list that exclusively features natural and sustainable labels, much the way the group's other venues do.

This sustainable approach will extend further than the booze and vegetarian food, too, with a zero-waste mentality central to the new venue. "We're excited to explore that world and to create opportunities for all of our bars and restaurants to recycle and reuse," says Smyth. "It might be turning our used cardboard into coasters or using discarded limes to create cleaning products for the bars."

Yes, a lot is changing, but The Basement vibe won't be completely gone, either. The downstairs bar will remain untouched, for example, and the new interior will retain elements of the former live music icon.

"It'll be rough and ready at points but pretty grown up in other parts — we want the space to be both intimate and raucous," says Smyth.

The Basement, which closed in April last year. DNSW.

It may seem like a trend is emerging with Mary's Group, who similarly resurrected the Lansdowne back in 2017. Is revitalising Sydney's failing music venues a new team slogan?

"The Lansdowne was a steep learning curve on what it takes to make a live music venue work, but we're 18 months in now and we feel like we have a valid voice in the industry," says Smyth. "I don't buy into rescuing venues, but I do like the idea of giving a kick in the ass to the music scene."

For those still mourning the loss of The Basement, there's hope for the venue yet. The new owner, musical entrepreneur Albert Dadon — who runs Melbourne's Bird's Basement — is still on the hunt for a new CBD location and is even taking suggestions from the public.

Mary's Underground is slated to open this May at 7 Macquarie Place, Sydney. We'll be keeping you updated as more details are revealed.

Images: Leyla Muratovic.

Published on February 04, 2019 by Marissa Ciampi
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