Former Sydney jazz venue The Basement is set to reopen in May under the rock'n'rolling management of Mary's Group.
Following a competitive tender process, Mary's co-founders Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham have been awarded the rights to take over the Circular Quay venue by building owners AMP Capital. The bearded blokes will operate a fast casual Mary's burger, fried chicken and booze bar at street level and a more intimate restaurant downstairs.
The venue, formerly known as The Basement (and now dubbed Mary's Underground), opened in 1973 and shuttered due to dwindling profits in March 2018. In that time it hosted cabaret, Neil Diamond, open jam nights and a lot of jazz .
Jazz group Galapagos Duck playing at The Basement in 1978. Photo: David James Bartho/Fairfax Media
Live music will still be a major part of the venue's DNA and rock, hip-hop, electro, blues and "whacked jazz" will all have a home at Mary's Underground, says Smyth.
""This isn't going to be another indie rock'n'roll haunt. We still want jazz here but we want young people playing it. We want them getting sweaty and tearing the roof off."
"We're going to try our best to keep the music free too," says Graham. "We're very conscious and respectful of the history of this place but obviously something need to change."
In addition to Mary's locations in Newtown and the CBD, Smyth and Graham co-own and operate The Unicorn hotel in Paddington and Chippendale's pizza and live music-focused pub, The Lansdowne.
The former Basement site will undergo a major renovation over the next few months. The old stage will remain standing, however it will be used for tables instead of bands in order to provide diners with a raised view of a new live music stage to be built on the northern wall.
"It's going to be a place to party," says Smyth. "We want to bring back that element of entertainment during your meal. You can come down and have an amazing meal with killer wine and then the booze trolley might come round at 9.30 and you can get stuck into the whiskies as the band starts."
Mary's burgers will be available from a fast casual restaurant on the venue's ground floor. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
The restaurant will be full service, with waitstaff, sommeliers and "the whole bloody whack-a-doo", says Smyth. There will be strong focus on Euro-American food with a "solid nod" to cooking styles of the 1920s through to the '50s, but with a few vegan options.
"We want to bring butter back, but with a few more plants and vegetables for 2019," says Graham.
The menu will follow a traditional a la carte format. "If you want to come and share things, of course you can do that, but the idea is for dishes to be broken up a little bit more, says Smyth.
Smyth says lobster lobster a l'Australiene – that is, lobster served with a native Australian butter and chips – will most definitely feature.
"I'm pretty keen to rock a Pina Koala too," says Graham. "Rum, pineapple and eucalyptus."
Saloon doors will open on to a small wine bar within Mary's Underground, serving raw seafood such as scarlet prawns, scallops, clams and oysters.
"It's an iconic venue in a part of town we haven't had a presence in before," says Smyth. "We're very excited to be able supply delicious food for Circular Quay office workers during the day, and then run a killer restaurant with great wine and live music at night. It's going to be a lot of fun."