The space that once housed the infamous and much-loved Vanguard has been quickly revamped as Leadbelly. While the bar and restaurant is a new concept, it has fully embraced the building's history by offering 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 — jumped at the chance to open their second venue in the iconic King Street space. "We want to keep the legacy of Vanguard alive," says O'Donohoe. "They've done so much with the local music scene over the years."
And O'Donohoe and Davis have done a good job with it. The chill atmosphere, dimly-lit interior and old-school blues club fit-out is very much in-line with the old Vanguard legacy. One distinct change though, is that they've finally thrown open those big-ass doors, thus ending the mysterious, ever-closed look of the former venue. It's a true announcement that the space is alive and well; the bar — which only opened in August — is already loved by locals.
The moody, vintage furnishings come complete with a very appropriate hanging portrait of the restaurant's namesake, who, as well as being the grandfather of blues guitar in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, was also a convicted murderer. True story.
The stage still acts as the focal point of the space, with live acts packing the place out on weekends. The mostly rock-heavy sets get the crowds dancing among the floor tables. If you're looking for more of a sit down situation, the balcony is perfect for watching while eating.
Leadbelly is a restaurant too, after all. The Southern US-style food menu is essentially a round-up of perfect gig snacks — think popcorn shrimp and smoked brisket po' boys ($18 each), pizzas from their own oven ($22-24), truffle fries ($10) and Buffalo wings with legit New York-style sauce ($15). On the libations note, bar manager Ben McFarlane (who's worked in various venues for both Merivale and the Urban Purveyor Group) heads up the cocktail list with seasonal flair. Our favourites are the Rye Me A River ($18) — a dry and smoky take on a Negroni with rosemary sprig and orange peel — and the In the Pines ($19), which is a fancy version of a whiskey sour. They've also got their own Leadbelly lager on tap, which adds a nice personalised touch to the beer situation.
Leadbelly rocks all that is great about Newtown — good food and booze, an eclectic crowd and free live music for all — and we look forward to the venue creating it's own legacy in this iconic space.
Images: Steven Woodburn.