Meyers Place, the Melbourne bar that started a revolution, to close

Karl Quinn
Six Degrees fitted out the interior of Meyers Place with material scavenged or bought on the cheap.
Six Degrees fitted out the interior of Meyers Place with material scavenged or bought on the cheap. 

Meyers Place, the tiny bar that 23 years ago gave birth to a revolution, is closing. 

Melbourne's first laneway bar set the benchmark when it opened in 1994, with its fit-out of recycled timber and shagpile carpet on the wall, its cast-on-site concrete bar, its cramped quarters and its embrace of the narrow city street from which it took its name.

"We built it out of skips pretty much – designing, scavenging and constructing it at the same time," remembers James Legge of Six Degrees architects, adding that the whole thing cost about $30,000. "We wanted it to be difficult to find, with no sign, down a back lane. It was about people being able to claim it as their own, and to take their friends there, to have that sense of discovery."

Heather Lakin, co-owner of Meyers Place, Melbourne's first laneway bar.
Heather Lakin, co-owner of Meyers Place, Melbourne's first laneway bar. Photo: Jason South

Meyers Place was established by the six partners in Six Degrees and six non-architect friends. Though the bar quickly became emblematic of "cool Melbourne", the design-minded city that emerged from the rubble of the early '90s recession, there was no template for such a venture when it opened.

"We were young and thought this was a great opportunity, how could it fail," remembers Heather Lakin, the last remaining owner of the 12 who signed the lease on the 5-by-20 metre room beneath the Italian Waiters Restaurant in 1993.

The City of Melbourne and the Liquor Licensing Commission needed some convincing, though. "We were knocked back once, but then Mietta [O'Donnell, the late restaurateur whose eponymous establishment was on another laneway nearby] lent her professional support, arguing it would be a unique and front-foot position to take," Lakin says.

Dumpster chic: rescued shelving, op-shop chairs, red shagpile wall panels.
Dumpster chic: rescued shelving, op-shop chairs, red shagpile wall panels. 

That it was. Now, there's barely a laneway in the CBD that doesn't have a bar, while every capital city in the country has attempted to emulate that laneway bar culture in the decades since.

It would be easy to paint the closure of Meyer's Place as an event just as symbolic as its opening, another example of big developers sucking the city dry of the very quirkiness that made it attractive to them in the first place.

But this building at least isn't about to be demolished for yet another high rise. In fact, the bar will make way for ... a bar, this one to be a Venetian-style place run by Alana Sabbadini, daughter of Sergio Sabbadini, who co-owns the building (and The Waiters Restaurant) with his brother Dennis. 

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The Sabbadinis informed Lakin and her co-owner Drew Pettifer last July that they had no intention of renewing their lease, which expires on June 22.

But Meyers Place isn't done yet.

"We're hoping to re-open in a space nearby by spring," says Pettifer. "In some ways, this gives us a chance to reassess what works about the place and what we might want to change."

Heather Lakin in the distinctive recycled interior created by Six Degrees.
Heather Lakin in the distinctive recycled interior created by Six Degrees. Photo: Jason South

As for that distinctive decor, "we plan to take as much of it with us as possible, to install in the new place".

So that would make Meyers Place Redux a recycled recycled bar? That'll never catch on.

Karl Quinn is on facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on twitter @karlkwin