It's no secret here at Time Out that we love the Bearded Tit. That's why we gave it Best Neighbourhood Bar at our 2016 Bar Awards.
From their live music programming to their high-risk, high-reward art installations, the Tit represents everything Sydney nightlife could and should be. The only problem? It's not actually open that late at night.
The Bearded Tit's approved hours for their outdoor area are only between noon and 8pm, while their indoor area is only allowed to be open from noon to 11pm. That's not a lot of Tit-time for the public, and for a venue that invests in paying performers and other kinds of artists, it's also not a big window in which to make a living. Nine days ago, the Bearded Tit applied to continue a trial of later trading hours, from 11pm to midnight indoors and from 8pm to 10pm outdoors. The Tit was allowed to open until midnight in its first year of trading on a trial basis but, as owner Joy Ng explains, when they reapplied, the council said, "'we can give you midnight, but you’re not allowed to have amplified music at all'. Not just for the extra hours – at all. So we rejected that and said ‘we have to have music’."
Their new application is for a two year trial of trading until midnight, with amplified music. "It’s just been a bit of a rigmarole to try and get documents together to show council that, if given until midnight to close, and to have amplified music, how that is not going to be detrimental to the Redfern community and our neighbours."
A "Section 96(2) modification of consent" submission to city council may not sound particularly sexy, and that's exactly the problem. So often, great venues' submission for later trading hours or the ability to put seats on the sidewalk go unnoticed, or worse, only attract complaints. Not this time.
The submission has already had more than 200 comments on Planning Alerts, a website run by Open Australia that lets people find out about changes to their local area. Included in the comments is this, from musician Paul Mac: "This bar is the community meeting place, safe space and cultural conduit that our city desperately needs."
Other residents have said:
"The Bearded Tit is a very special venue, offering an experience unlike any other in Sydney."
"As a local resident and frequent customer at the Bearded Tit I would just like to say that I have always felt safe and included in the utterly unique environment that staff and patrons have created together."
"The Bearded Tit is the most inclusive, vibrant, original venue in we have seen in Sydney in years. It is a vital part of the shrinking pool of live music, art & performance venues where artists of all disciplines can showcase their work in a live setting."
These comments, provided they include the writer's full name and address, get passed on directly to the city council. "It’s amazing [to see the support]," Ng says of the outpouring. "I went to bed, and then this morning I woke up to see if there was anything negative… and I just saw literally hundreds of messages of support. It’s been very touching. I’m very moved. It’s been really beautiful."
It can be easy to slip into a pattern of thinking that democracy begins and ends at the polling booth, but it's not the case. In reality, something that takes as little time as writing a short comment stating your support can have a significant impact on the area in which you live, and the businesses you frequent. Residents who make noise complaints against live music venues have known this forever.
It's time those of us who would like to see the city stay a little louder, a little later learned it too. Sensible, impassioned action by the community can and does make a difference. And if there was ever a place to start, it's the Bearded Tit. As for Ng, she hopes one day, she won't have to apply and reapply for trial hours.
"It takes a big chunk of your time to have to navigate… and that’s time I could spend on spreading a wider net on our programming. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just trade til midnight? That would be ideal."
Want more live music in your life? Here's our guide to free live music every night of the week in Sydney.