Canberra’s Phoenix Pub at Risk of Permanent Closure Over Stoush With Landlord

Canberra musicians and bands say the city’s live music scene will be dealt a huge blow if The Phoenix pub closes down due to a long-running stoush with its landlord and property managers.

The bar, located in Civic’s Sydney Building, has been a popular music venue since it opened 25 years ago.

But manager Netti Vonthethoff said it was at risk of bankruptcy after it was slapped with a $200,000 rent bill for a period they claim they were unfit to trade.

The business has faced a string of financial setbacks since the Sydney Building was damaged by fire in February 2014, along with many businesses on East Row.

Despite the fire only causing minor damage to the pub, the business was forced to close and Ms Vonthethoff said the property owner demanded The Phoenix repair it as the building was uninsured.

The Phoenix spreads across two premises and the original part — the much larger section — has been closed since the fire except for a few weeks last year.

The smaller Phoenix pub venue in Canberra packed during a live music gig.

Ms Vonthethoff said heavy rainfall “gutted the venue” after the fire, which she claimed was because the property manager’s repair contractor had not properly secured a tarp on the roof.

“We lost our cool room, we lost the plumbing, the actual bar, ceilings, floors — there was nothing for a long period of time,” she said.

“We had lawyers negotiating for us because the real estate agent on behalf of the landlord was refusing to do any of the upgrades.

“Around July last year we realised we can’t wait for them to do it … they’d already started charging us rent again.”

Ms Vonthethoff said luckily the bar could keep the smaller section open and make some money in the interim.

But after spending more than $250,000 repairing the venue, and now facing a $200,000 bill for the period they were closed, she said its future looked dire.

Due to the business’ financial hardship, Ms Vonthethoff said the smaller venue may also have to close permanently.

People drinking in the original Phoenix bar venue in Canberra.

“This space was never set up to be the venue to run live music. Our doorway comes straight in across the band, the layout wasn’t designed for that,” she said.

She said trade had dropped “drastically” since the saga began.

“We’re The Phoenix, we’re supposed to rise again and we will but it will take a lot of support,” she said.

“Without a natural solution, we may have to close our doors. It’s very sad.

“Canberra’s such a young place and to really build a heart and soul, it takes time and The Phoenix is part of that.”

The property manager, LJ Hooker, would not comment on The Phoenix’s claims when contacted by the ABC.

‘It would put a big dent in Canberra’

Katherine Bray and Georgia Hannaford are regular performers at the Phoenix and said Canberra’s music scene would seriously suffer without it.

“This place means a lot in terms of upcoming bands and getting promoted, because if any musician says they want to be noticed … we say definitely go to The Phoenix,” Bray said.

“There aren’t many venues that pay you if you write and perform original music so that obviously means a lot.”

Two young women sit on some steps leading up to a stage.

Hannaford said while Canberra was seeing a resurgence of artists wanting to perform live, there were a lack of venues to support it.

“I would actually feel really upset if it shut down,” she said.

Owner of pub The Basement in Belconnen, Lance Fox, agreed that if The Phoenix was lost it would come at the worst time for Canberra’s live music scene.

“The loss of an eclectic and iconic cultural venue like the Phoenix would put a very big dent in the idea of Canberra being ‘the cool little capital’ and leave a huge hole in the artistic diversity of the Canberra music scene,” he said.

“There is an incredible number of businesses and artists looking for space … but what is unique is about in Canberra is that there are only a few places you can go.”