The best rock’n’roll bar in Melbourne, if not the world, has closed its doors – but owner James Young promises we haven’t had our last bite of Cherry Bar.
On Sunday, July 28 this year Melbourne’s beloved live music venue Cherry Bar shut its doors for the final time. After almost 20 years trading in ACDC Lane (which was blandly named Corporation Lane when the bar first moved in), the rough-and-tumble rock’n’roll bar called time on the location – but not on the bar itself.
James Young, Cherry’s owner and booker, says it “will 100 per cent” reopen in the CBD, starting a new chapter for “pretty much the best rock’n’roll bar in the world”. Before Young took it over in 2005 (to “make sure I could always get in”), Cherry had a completely different vibe. For its first six years of life Cherry Bar was only open three nights a week and played no live music.
“When I moved in, it was a vanity purchase, and I wasn't really giving it enough attention,” says Young. “Then eventually it became obvious that I loved live music and loved bands. Booking them was something I wanted to do and something that I was good at.”
Young started by booking the bands he knew, relying on his love of Melbourne’s live music scene to guide line-ups. It also helped that Cherry Bar’s relatively small 200 person capacity in ACDC Lane meant that even on slow nights the venue still looked inviting – and allowed Cherry to nurture new talent. “At a venue with a modest capacity, you can have smaller bands and hopefully help them become bigger,” says Young. Bands like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Amyl and the Sniffers and the Chats landed some of their first gigs at Cherry.
Young made headlines as both “the world's most credible booker or the world's greatest idiot”
As the bar’s reputation as a live venue grew so did the fame of the bands who played there. Over the years Graveyard, the Black Keys and the New York Dolls have taken to the Cherry stage, a trend Young attributes partly to the whisperings of road crews. “You might think a “Cherry” band is Metallica,” says Young, “and you might think that George Michael or P!nk are not a “Cherry” band. But the thing is they’ve got the same road crews.” And you better believe the road crews talk, recommending Cherry to different artists they tour with. “It's the road crews that bring along the bands that create the international ripple effect.”.
Then there was the infamous Lady Gaga incident of 2012. Young accepted Gaga’s request to have a party at Cherry, with the caveat that the stage be cleared by 9pm for an existing band booking (Mildura two-piece Jackson Firebird). That didn’t work for Gaga, so she took the party to the Northcote Social Club and Young made headlines as both “the world's most credible booker or the world's greatest idiot”.
But Cherry was rewarded with bumper crowds for honouring the original booking and eventually Gaga came back a year later with no visible security, stayed for five hours and danced on the bar. “I think her attitude was ‘You say I’m not welcome at Cherry Bar, well I'm going to come back and leave my footprint on your bar literally and metaphorically.’”
Of course more changes are on the way for the bar. Young was told in 2018 that Cherry’s lease would not be renewed when it ended in eight years. But rather than run (or shall we say, rock) the venue into the ground for as long as possible, Young made a difficult, pragmatic decision after a restaurateur expressed interest in moving into the space. “Cherry was never, ever for sale… But I thought if I accept this offer, I can move Cherry to another venue with a 25-year lease."
Exactly where that new venue will be remains, at the time of writing, a mystery. But with the knowledge that it will still be Cherry, sticky-floor and all, Melbourne can rest assured knowing it’s still home to “pretty much the best rock’n’roll bar in the world”.