Rockbrat Remembers: The Century Tavern / Bar Century in Sydney

century-bar-sydney.jpgI was somewhat disappointed to read about the imminent closure of Sydney’s Bar Century, (although when I used to drink there it was known as the Century Tavern), which is located on the corner of George and Liverpool Street. On a personal level, this was my favourite watering hole in the city, and I have many fond memories of drinking there from the late 1980s onwards. It was a veritable oasis, up the flight of stairs and an escape from the rush of George Street below. On a hot summers day, there was nothing better than to sit on a stool, breeze coming in from the large open windows above the awnings, and to look down at the rush of the city below over bar-century-nsw-7672.jpga couple of frosty schooners of Tooheys (Old or New). And as the building was originally owned by Tooheys (know your history), this was only right and just. Like many others, this was my choice of venue for a couple of beers prior to venturing out to see a band. Far too many nights in here to recall them all, yet I do remember sharing many beers here with both Rockbrat and Gig lizard, as this is where we met at agreed times. I remember feeding plenty of coins into the jukebox too for that matter. I remember walking up to Springfields from here with Giglizard, or to the Lansdowne or even up Parramatta Road (the Giglizard didn’t mind a walk). In latter years the place was given a makeover, and looked far more cleaner and appealing (see image), than the less gentrified, (some would say dirty) appearance it had when I was a regular there. Yet that was its charm. I didn’t have to sit in some yuppie bar and pay for overpriced beers. I felt comfortable here, it was all accepting, and was unpretentious. After a hard day’s record shopping I would find myself in here, looking through the records I bought over a glass of beer, or reading through the current issue of On The Street. I also recall when the (now defunct) monorail would glide on by. Even though I was a long standing member of the City of Sydney RSL Club (just over the road), when I had to make a choice I always came to the Century for a whistle wetter.  Many punters who attended gigs  at The Metro up the road on George Street would drink before and after.

Saloon Bar in the Century circa 1941. Image (c) Archives Program, ANU




So why the closure ? The closure follows a recent report from the City of Sydney which found that late night foot traffic in Sydney’s CBD and a number of its surrounding precincts have continued to decline over the last few years, resulting in lower levels of anti-social behaviour, but also fewer paying punters through the doors. The report suggests that the introduction of the city’s lockout laws in February 2014 may have helped to reduce levels of anti-social behaviour and alcohol-related violence. The lockout laws were announced in late January 2014 and rushed through parliament following the death of Sydney teenager Daniel Christie, with the aim to reducing the level of alcohol-fuelled violence across the city’s nightclub hotspots. This legislation requires bottle shops to close their doors at 10pm and prevents patrons from entering a venue for the first time after 1.30am. The lockout laws also prevent pubs and clubs from serving alcohol to patrons after 3am. The lockout laws have no doubt contributed to a drop in night-time trade, hastening the Century’s demise. However, from what I understand, another reason the George Street located venue (which has been in the same location since 1940), is to close is due to an untenable rent increase. Bar Century’s art deco home is slated to be given a refit that is a first for Sydney (not my words), combining a nightclub with “virtual gaming” (Virtual Gaming? Is that someone pretending to play pinball?) on a floor above, and as part of the same gaming venue, an 80-person capsule hotel is proposed for the outgoing World Square Backpacker hostel (which was located on the upper floor). And did anyone not notice the NSW State Government’s hypocrisy by allowing venues in Pyrmont (including the Casino) to be excluded from the lock out laws cos they are not in the CBD’s so called zoning area?

Although the venue is not being sold, it may as well be. 75 years as a licenced pub and now a virtual gaming lounge ? If it was a lame horse you would put it out of its misery. Successive NSW Government’s have continued to sell off Sydney city’s architectural heritage time and time again, and there are far too many examples of  Government selling off prime parcels of land to foreign (Chinese in the main) developers and landowners who demolish long standing buildings in the CBD to erect more characterless apartment blocks, with complete disregard to either historic or heritage value. No historic value you say? The Century was originally known as Askeys and then as Caseys until March 1940, when the hotel was purchased by Tooth & Company) in July 1923. On completion of rebuilding in January 1941 340190the hotel was a six storeyed brick structure, with a malthoid roof and a fully tiled ground floor exterior. The architectural style is known as P. & O. Ship Style because of its similarities to ocean liner forms. I recently bought Ian Collis’ book called ‘Old Sydney’, and it is filled with images of the Sydney’s cityscape and old buildings in times past.  The irony that I have to walk down these old streets via the pages of a book is not lost on me, and it is nothing short of an indictment upon successive NSW Government’s. The Century closes for good on 20 February 2016. Now back to the book. Close your eyes and picture yourself at the Century over the last 75 years. Can someone please pour me a Club Lager ?

One thought on “Rockbrat Remembers: The Century Tavern / Bar Century in Sydney

  1. I had many a happy Friday evening at the Century Tavern in the early to mid 1990s. Strongest memory is hearing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit there for the very first time. No wonder it’s memorable.

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