Adelaide pioneer venue La Boheme under threat by small bar boom it encouraged

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Posted

March 14, 2019 16:35:53

A groundswell of public support has given hope that one of Adelaide’s first small bars will be able to emerge from a sea of debt to keep its doors open.

Key points:

  • Its founder says the bar has struggled due to increased competition
  • The small bar was opened on Grote Street in 2005 and has held hundreds of shows
  • Regular performers at the bar are helping to fundraise to keep it open

La Boheme was set up on Grote Street, in Adelaide’s CBD, by Paul Boylon in 2005 as the spray painter and panel beater made a radical career change.

Since then, more than 800 shows have been performed at the boutique cabaret venue.

However, La Boheme has fallen on hard times.

Mr Boylon said they believed part of the impact was the more than 150 small bar licences that had been granted in the city since regulations were changed in 2013, a move he ironically backed.

“I didn’t understand or didn’t know that they were going to introduce that many, that it wasn’t capped, so what we’ve found is that since the small bar category came in, there’s been a slow decrease in turnover,” Mr Boylon said.

To make matters worse, the nightspot has also been hit by the closure of the nearby Her Majesty’s Theatre for a major and long-term rebuild, and work on the former Maughan Church site.

“It’s not only the patrons of Her Majesty’s, but it’s also the normal walk-past traffic that’s diminished significantly,” Mr Boylon said.

‘Perfect storm’ for the venue

Well-known arts administrator Greg Mackie is backing La Boheme’s push to keep its lights on.

He said the combination of the redevelopment of Her Majesty’s Theatre and the small bar expansion has been hard to survive.

“I think it’s turned into a perfect storm for La Boheme, hopefully it’s a storm that they can sail through and reach calmer waters,” he said.

Mr Boylon owes his landlord $50,000 and must pay $30,000 almost immediately.

The threat of closure forced him to eventually seek outside help.

“We’ve run this business for over 12 years and I’m not necessarily a man who normally asks for help, but people close to me said ‘people will be angry if you don’t give them the chance to help you, as they believe you’ve helped them’,” he said.

Bohemian fans come to the rescue

Mr Boylon set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise the initial $30,000 and by this morning the figure was sitting just below $25,000.

Added to that, he decided to put on a show called the Loose Change Cabaret to raise additional funds and was so overwhelmed by the response last night that he had to stage successive shows to fit everyone in to the intimate venue.

Nearly $4,000 was raised through donations and drinks.

Performer Anya Anastasia took time out from her five-star Adelaide Fringe show to perform, a payback after first performing at La Boheme more than a decade ago.

“It is such an important venue in the arts scene here in Adelaide, I think across the world in every city you need to have a thriving arts scene all year round, not just during the busy festival periods,” Anastasia said.

“La Boheme has been absolutely instrumental in making sure there’s always a platform for independent artists to try new work.”

Mr Mackie was not surprised by the public’s rapid and generous response.

“It’s absolutely critical that we don’t lose these intimate performance spaces, they provide character and of course Her Majesty’s will reopen in I think about a year’s time and that will be part of an arts precinct, character places like La Boheme need to survive,” he said.

High hopes for a long-term future

Mr Boylon is now confident La Boheme will stay open.

“We’ve made one payment, we’ve got another payment to make at the end of the Fringe and then another one a couple of weeks later,” he said.

“If those payments are made, we then are going to sit down with the owner and the management and talk about how we can progress further, so there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

However, he said he realised the business would have to change to survive in the long-term, including by offering food — an essential element of modern-day small bars.

The venue is nearing the end of a busy Adelaide Fringe period, with 21 shows using the venue.

“I think it’s a great experience for both artists and audiences because it’s such an intimate space, the performers can see the whites of everyone’s eyes, not just the front row,” he said.

“You can hear their breathing, you can hear their actual physical reactions to what you’re doing.”

Topics:

hospitality,

industry,

music,

music-industry,

jazz,

adelaide-5000,

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