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A mate’s band, The Little Stevies, was playing at The Basement last Friday night, and the stars aligned when we looked through our deck of Bar Secrets cards and found the old darling represented.
Awww. The Basement. We’ve both worked in music in some capacity for the last three thousand years, so we have a soft spot for this joint. If you live in Sydney and have been seeing live music for any of the last forty years, there’s a good chance you’ve ended up in this venue at some point. The Basement is all about the music, which is lucky, really, as the toilets are completely mank. But more about that later.
For those about to rock, we salute you. And also drink you a little bit.
You can always find at least one of us near a crotch.
GOT WOOD Located on the cusp of the CBD and Circular Quay, The Basement is just that, a basement. The main entrance used to be on Reiby Place, a laneway that became exponentially harder to find the more schooners you’d downed previously. These days, entry is via the more user-friendly Macquarie Place, with the addition of outdoor seating and a strangely incongruous upstairs bar. For those familiar with the existing Basement, you know that it’s dark, wooden, band-poster-riddled and awesome, but for some reason this homely decor doesn’t reach street level. The top bar is quite a contrast - light, open, sleek and minimal.
Also, sometimes the art emits an eerie glow.
MOVE ALONG, PLEASE. Not being able to find a seat upstairs, we wandered down the ramp to the main downstairs bar, which is like boarding a submarine bound for rock (and jazz and soul and folk-country-fuzz-fusion). The first outstandingly polite and friendly staff member started his comely banter by telling us we’d just missed happy hour. Way to politely and endearingly deflate a girl, man. After our first (full-priced at $7.50) drink and a joyous appreciation of The Little Stevies’ soundcheck, another outstandingly polite and friendly staff member asked us to move into the side bar known as The Green Room, presumably so they could set the main room up for the gig. After a while, we decided to move upstairs to round out our review, where we were told by a third outstandingly polite and friendly staff member that if we were here for the show, we could move downstairs if we wanted to. Our bottoms were slutty that night, dear friends.
This is just the soundcheck. For the actual gig, he turns around.
THE GREEN ROOM This is a pleasant, woody space with two main features – a warm, close-quarters bar and a pool table. Consequently, it reminded us of our university years, such was our fierce dedication to the book-learnin’ arts. This is a quieter space than the main room, so it’s great for a pre-gig feed or to get to know the skinny-jeaned scruffy gent you’ve just been eyeing off between sets, but its main purpose is to remind us of Van Gogh paintings.
The Night Cafe in the Place Lamartine in Arles
The pool table bit at the Basement. UNCANNY.
UPSTAIRS We understand the need to diversify and perhaps attract patrons other than just music punters, which is how we explained the completely different décor and atmosphere in the upstairs bar to ourselves. Maybe they want to create a nice little cocktail bar that stands alone from the main room? Well that’s all fine and good, but THEY DON’T SERVE COCKTAILS. When the (outstandingly polite and friendly) barman said they didn’t serve cocktails upstairs, he was greeted with two very confused and hurt facial expressions. This is the part of the venue that screams cocktails. It makes no sense! If you’re going to just serve beer and basics, at least make it look the part so our expectations are met. After collecting ourselves, it was downstairs to the heart of the beast, and what a beast it is.
DOWNSTAIRS The thing we love most about the basement is that there are bill posters for bands covering every inch of the walls (and some parts of the ceiling), making it impossible to tell what colour the walls actually are. It’s like the history of music did a glorious wet-burp in black, white and go cat go. You immediately feel in the mood to see some music, and with not a window in sight, low ceilings and dim lighting, you instantly feel like you are in some bar in New York and someone should jump on the grand piano and play something dirty and... maybe that’s just us. The room is large and set up for patrons wishing to partake in dinner and a show, and anyone who knows us understands that we get a little silly over dinner and a show. Especially the dinner and show part!
YOU GLORIOUS BASTARDS The staff in this place are second to none, and perhaps this is one of the differences between a bar and a music venue. We don’t think we’ve ever seen a place with such a consistently genuine and heart-warming crew manning and womaning the decks. Patrons vary depending on who’s on the stage, but being mostly a music crowd, they’re often interesting, vaguely alternative and less likely than just about any other bunch of drunk people to cause trouble or get nasty (please see special subjects under the headings Licensing Laws, The Hoey, The Annandale, The Tote, et cetera ad nauseam). Right on.
CHOONS Wanna know what the music’s like at The Basement? Read your ticket, idiot. Sheesh. Do we gotta do everything? You can see performers at The Basement that you can’t see anywhere else, and it remains an absolute staple of the Sydney music scene, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes avant-garde. Bless it. Bless it a lot. Unfortunately, before the show started, a Sting album was playing over the sound system. We wouldn’t have noticed that it was a Sting CD, so unobtrusive was the volume, except that every two minutes or so, the thing skipped like crazy. You know what’s worse than listening to a whole Sting CD? Listening to one that goes “I’m an Englishman in New YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR-YOR….”.
THROUGH THAT DOOR, JUST FOLLOW YOUR NOSE The toilets are not good. It’s a bit like someone cut the toilets out of a bowlo or a rural airport and transferred them here. Except of course, we’re not sure that bowlo or country airport toilets have vending machines dispensing Wipe-On Sex Appeal in them.
Yeah. That's called "sweat" where we're from.
Beige, ecru and off-white, the facilities are badly in need of a renovation, even taking our low standards into account. There are two cubicles in the Ladies, which for a venue that has live entertainment with gaps in between sets is like booking a stall at a Queuing Expo. You put two hundred people in a room with a show and some drinks, and you have at least fifty people waiting for a gap between sets to go to the toilet. It’s science.
AND THE NOMS ARE… There’s both fancy-schmancy meals and classic pubby-bistro meals available at The Basement – the former from 7:30pm, usually with a ‘dinner and show’ ticket, and the latter available most of the time. We opted for The Basement Burger and The Basement BLT from the Bistro menu, because we dig consistency, alliteration, and big fat chips.
B is also for Bacon and Blocked Artieries.
Delicious, massive, and we’d better add another kilometre to our jog next week. The only odd thing was that once you’ve ordered your Bistro food at the bar, you’re asked to check back in ten minutes to see if it’s ready and pick it up. This can mean more than one trip to the bar, and the first time we’ve ever missed those buzzy little light-up spaceships you get in other bars to let you know when your food’s ready.
Jeff Duff is still waiting for his Nachos.
The cocktail menu is short but sweet and fancifully named, sticking with a musical theme. You can get a Sinatra, Stevie’s Wonder, Coltrane Caprioska, Raspy Ella, Simone’s Sling or a Loneliest Monk. We took pity on the last one and almost ordered it, because LOOK! It’s ronery. Tricky little cocktails, taking advantage of our fondness for alcohol and kitten-rescuing. Manipulators!
Cocktail menu, AKA Saucy Minx Temptress
DRINKY DRINKY: LORIN Vodka Dry- I would just like to stress that my drink was served in a small tumbler. SMALL TUMBLER. I’d love to say that The Basement obviously reads our blog, but let’s be honest, they probably just know that dry = serious drinker, allow for easier access.
I'm happy because I have a small tumbler, and because the lights are squiggly.
Great mix and ratio of alcohol to dry. I wasn’t asked what Vodka I wanted, but in that sort of musical environment I’d almost accept the staff to tell me to shut up, and drink what I’m given. Rock. The staff were sickeningly nice so that would never happen.
Cocktail: While trying to pretend I was in New York I went with the obvious choice of a Sinatra. With lime and strawberries muddled with ginger and sugar, then shaken with Vodka, Creme de Gingembre and Framboise, it is lastly topped with Cascade Ginger beer. This was quite a good little cocktail, and although it surprisingly didn’t really taste much of ginger at all, it was still really smooth to drink, not too sweet and for $16 not a bad cocktail at all.
Frank's the one on the left.
DRINKY DRINKY: JO Gin & Tonic: My standard drink was crisp, as it should be, and too small, as all the good ones are. The barman asked me for my garnish preference, and then squeezed a fat wedge of lime into the gloriously ginny drink. Sip. Smack. Slap. Lovely.
I look surprised, because it's nearly gone.
For my cocktail, I had me a Basement Mojito – muddled lime, brown sugar, rum, mint and soda. A gorgeous fat glass, with not quite enough mint but certainly enough rum. After two sips, I found that the sharper lime notes gave way to the mel - HELLO I’M DRUNK. Cool, refreshing, and long lasting – exactly how I like my cocktails, ice creams and coastal breezes.
I look serious, because I'm about to fall over.
While we love the basement for the music venue it is, as a bar that is to be compared with every other in our pack of cards, it’s not quite up to par. But to be honest, we don’t really care. We’ll be back, just as we have been time and time again. There’s nothing quite like The Basement.
Cheers, The Basement. Cheers heaps.
We’re giving The Basement two and a half bill posters out of five.