Let’s face it, the Garage has always been a bit dishevelled. The Highbury venue’s scuffed look was part of its appeal during the ’90s and 2000s, when bands like Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Cypress Hill, Babyshambles, Radiohead and Oasis all graced its sticky stage. But we’re a greedier bunch today, and we expect top-notch soundsystems and thoughtfully stocked bars as standard.
New owners DHP Family (who also run Oslo Hackney and the newly reopened Borderline in Soho) are behind The Garage’s dramatic new look. Not only have they fitted a state-of-the-art lighting and PA system in the main room but the underused street-facing bar has cannily been spun into an extremely stylish coffee-shop-cum-cocktail-bar called General Store; it will open in the daytime and service both commuters and gig-goers.
The music room upstairs is now a vision in blush pink velvet and stainless steel, where previously it was gloomy, uninspired and dour. Clearly Studio 54 has been an inspiration. The pastel hues plus 150 glitterballs on the ceiling (that’s one for everybody who can fit into the room at capacity) has led to its new nickname: Thousand Island. Musicians are in for a treat too – not only does the dressing room come with actual bottles of dressing in a cabinet (geddit?) but that mouldy sofa propped up on wooden pallets? Dumped.
I saw my first proper gig at The Garage as a schoolgirl, standing front row as Spiritualized turned grown men into balls of tears. Scrabbling on stage to rip the setlist from its masking tape, I determined to go back as often as possible. It wasn’t long before I was working behind the bar. The view was always a treat – audiences at The Garage don’t tend to hold back. Possibly the greatest sight of all was the Christmas meets The Cure party where people dressed as hybrid Robert Smith-Santas.
That same bar is almost unrecognisable now – giant headlights beam out from artfully cracked mirrors – it’s as if David Lynch stage-directed a car crash. On top of that, the actual bar top is made from tyre rubber with the draught beers arranged on a sort-of steering wheel. Yes, it’s over-egging the ‘garage’ theme but who cares when it looks this good?
One thing that thankfully hasn’t been touched is the stage; you can still spot sections of the floor rubbed smooth by excited bands feeding off the energy of the crowd only a foot away. The good news is that this overhaul shouldn’t get in the way of The Garage’s ongoing mission as a hardworking, hardwearing live music venue. It just looks a lot more loved.