Venues come and go with a tiresome regularity. It’s a fact that anyone with even a little experience within a local, original, alternative music scene has to accept. A lot of the time it’s horrendously unspectacular. The doors shut. The lights go off. The patrons are moved on. Sometimes it’s a total closure. Other times it’s a mere lick of paint and some haircut with an iTunes playlist moving in instead. You hear a lot of the same words being bandied about at the time: “Licensing,” “noise complaints,” “maximising revenue.” The end result doesn’t really change. You’re out. Someone else is in.
It took me a long time to figure out exactly what made the closure of The Arthouse different; why there was such a great outpouring of emotion. Last night, I figured it out. I’ve seen pubs that I’ve liked go under in the past, and I’ve been annoyed about it, but I moved on quite quickly. Last night was different. And while the prevailing theme of the night was one of sadness, of lament, of grief for the loss of a loved one, I couldn’t help but feel happy. I felt hopeful, buoyed. At about 6pm earlier that night, I sat at a dinner table with six other people. One-by-one we all went around and listed our favourite, most beloved “Arthouse moments.” Small, single dots in time. I suspect by nights’ end more than a few of these would’ve been replaced. I know mine was.
As folk outfit Fear Like Us stepped down from the much worn-in stage to conclude their set by the boarded-up fireplace, the only amplification coming from the collective voices of the masses huddled around them who sang every word like their lives were at stake, suddenly it all became clear. This was a culminating moment. A celebration of everything this humble little dive bar had represented to so many over two decades; a single, fading voice crying out into the night one last time. And whilst the final shutting of these doors is an undeniably sad moment, there’s a lot to be taken from it happening that is hopeful, bright, and dare I say it, a little sunny.
A pub, by-and-large, is just that. A place that gets you liquored up; a place where many nights are lost to the ensuing haze. The Arthouse was never just a pub. At any other music venue in the city you could go along and see a band play to a small crowd of ambivalence, or to a packed house of adoring fans. The Arthouse was never just a music venue. The Arthouse was a home. A place of welcoming, of acceptance, a place free of judgement, prejudice, and intimidation. Strangers met and became friends. Friends became lovers. Some lovers even got married there. What made The Arthouse special was the one thing it did that so very few places like it do: it bred a community. It bred a local community, which grew to become a national community, which grew to become an international community. It bred a culture of no bullshit, of tolerance, understanding and respect. This was a place where bouncers were never really needed, (a fact that flew in the face of the so-called reputation that inevitably played a small role in its’ eventual demise). A place where a group of complete strangers would link arms and engage in a bawdy a-cappella rendition of the chorus to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” for no other discernable reason than it was really, really fun. A place where everyone had their own favourite little corner, be it the corner table in the beer garden, the Galaga machine, or leaning against the pole (that fucking pole). But, alas, these things are no more. Confined to memory. The house is packed up. We’ve had to move out. And yes, whilst it is a sobering thought that those walls are not forever, this culture, this community, shit, this fucking family that came to be because of The Arthouse will continue to live on, and thrive, and grow. And that, my friends, is something we should all be very, very proud of.
See you next weekend.