Brunswick St struggle street for bars, cafes

Video game-themed Mana Bar, closing in September, is the latest in a series of Brunswick Street bars to go under.
Video game-themed Mana Bar, closing in September, is the latest in a series of Brunswick Street bars to go under. Photo: Meredith O'Shea

The restaurant slump has hit hard in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, the strip that kickstarted Melbourne's cafe and bar scene back in the 1980s.

At least 13 Brunswick Street venues have closed in the past three years, and at least six more hospitality businesses on the strip are listed for sale. Low consumer confidence, licence fees and high rents have been blamed for the flurry of exits.

Mana Bar, which opened two years ago as a video game-themed venue, has just announced its ''debilitating licence restrictions'' would force it to close in late September.

A last-ditch effort to save the business, a ''Save Your Mana'' event, will be held from August 27 to 31, but the owners are already searching for a new home.

Bar brand manager Skaidris Gunsmith said the state government's extension of a freeze on the allocation of late-night liquor licences to June 30, 2015, played a significant role in the bar's fate.

The freeze applies to any venue applying to trade past 1am in Yarra, Melbourne, Port Phillip and Stonnington.



''No one's looking for cocktails during the day. People only want to come here at 9pm and then we have to stop everything and kick everyone out at 11pm. So we only have two hours to make money,'' he said. ''If that [freeze] hadn't been in place, we would have been thriving by now.''

Many Brunswick Street bars and restaurants have shut since 2010, including St Jude's Cellars, the Cue Club, Sala Thai, Cherry Lounge, Kazen, The Tenth Muse, Cruzao Arepa Bar, Gypsy Bar, Mirrors Lounge Bar, Filter Cafe, Oppo Cafe, Max's Cafe and Retro Cafe.

Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive John Hart said because Brunswick Street is known as a hospitality district, there was a rent premium on venues that makes it hard for many businesses to make a profit.

The hospitality sector across Melbourne is under increasing pressure.

The average spend per person in the nation's restaurants has dropped from $61 to $54 in the past year, according to national hospitality booking agency Dimmi. Victoria was the only state where the agency noted a decrease in bookings.

The Weekly Review Melbourne Times, with Esther Han