It was a sad, sad day when The Vanguard closed its doors and left a collective hole in the hearts of music-loving Sydneysiders. Luckily, we haven't had to wait long for the space to be brought back to life. The venue has reopened as Leadbelly, a new bar and restaurant that offers live gigs Thursday through Sunday — for free.
Live music junkies Luke O'Donohoe and Zac Davis — who are also the co-owners of Tipple Bar & Bistro in Surry Hills — are the new owners of the Newtown venue, and jumped at the chance to open their second venue in the iconic King Street space. "We want to keep the legacy of Vanguard alive," O'Donohoe told us in June. "They've done so much with the local music scene over the years."
Their love of music runs deep, which is obvious from the venue's nomenclature. Named after the notorious musician Lead Belly who, as well as being the grandfather of blues guitar in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, was also a convicted murderer. Go figure.
"The actual venue will pay homage to music itself," said O'Donohoe. "We don't think there's enough free live music in the city and it will be a point of difference for us." The venue hopes to pull in enough on the bar and restaurant side of things to keep the free acts coming.
On the libations front, bar manager and 'Olympic' bartender Ben McFarlane (who's worked in various venues for both Merivale and the Urban Purveyor Group) is heading up the seasonal cocktail list, while the food has a bit of Southern U.S. flare. Think Louisiana-style po' boys and in-house smoked brisket. They're also slinging pizzas from their very own oven.
As new residents of Newtown, their local ties will also extend to the prevalent craft beer scene — but not just with the usual suspects Young Henrys and Wayward. The bar will have its very own Leadbelly Lager, specially made for the venue. Yup, this place will fit right in.
Leadbelly is now open every day except Monday from 4pm at 42 King Street, Newtown. For more info, go to theleadbelly.com.au.