600 George St, Sydney NSW
(02) 9267 7827 or www.starbar.com.au
The once-dodgy, south end of George Street has something to twinkle about.
Most Sydneysiders will have a memory of Star Bar — some hazier than others. Its location in the very centre of town and its longevity make it something of a George St legend.
Between the wars, Sydney experienced a boom in palace-style theatre buildings, and Star Bar — or as it was then, the Plaza Theatre — was one of them, opening in 1930. It remained a cinema until 1970, when it became multi-functional, housing a McDonald’s, a skating rink, a concert venue and a restaurant as well. From 1995 to 2000, the venue was the theme restaurant Planet Hollywood — some costumes are left over from this time and are on display on the top floor. Star Bar opened in 2001, when the building was bought by Maloney Hotel Group. But, my, how it’s changed!
EXITING PLANET HOLLYWOOD
Now, Star Bar is a sparkling all-in-one venue with something for everyone: a basement nightclub, street-level bar and top floor bar and restaurant. With a nod to the past, there’s even a boutique cinema. Kim Maloney, CEO of Maloney Hotel Group, explains that throughout the day, a whole range of people walk through the doors — backpackers and corporate workers for lunch in the day, the after-work crowd from 5pm, cinema-goers in the evening (Event Cinemas is across the road), suburban partygoers, then nightclubbers after midnight, and finally hospitality workers from around the city until closing time in the early hours.
So does the new Star Bar have something that appeals to everyone? “It does,” says Maloney. “I think over the three floors, it does.”
In Star Bar’s short life it has seen some changes already. “We did extensions and renovations over the years with the kitchens and the bars, and the Level 1 street-level bar and basement, but it was only, to a degree, patchwork renovations,” Maloney says. “So there came a time when we had to ‘de-Planet Hollywood-ise’ it, and therefore a major overhaul and renovation was required.”
GLORY DAYS RETURN
Maloney commissioned Sydney’s Robertson+Marks architects for the job. Director Andrew Scarvelis received an exciting brief, he says, to return the building to its former glory as an entertainment hub while respecting its heritage: “To enhance the wonder and sense of experience and take advantage of the site’s potential and history.”
Scarvelis describes the firm’s approach to Star Bar’s renovations as focussing on “de-cluttering” — opening up the venue’s spaces and then closing them up again in subtle ways. “Metaphorically it’s a kind of design volume control where we looked at turning it up in some areas, and muting it a little in others,” he says. “The un-cluttering revealed a beautiful old warehouse space with an exposed timber truss roof structure, which we took the opportunity to highlight. As an architect you don’t often get that opportunity to work with this style of space, especially in the heart of Sydney.”
Robertson+Marks’s brief for Level 1 involved enhancing the 8m-high ceilings and building on the remnants of the original Plaza Theatre. “Of course we had to keep the cinema,” Maloney remarks, explaining that the cinema is a smaller version of what the original theatre looked like. The ground floor was to be a friendly street-level bar with a subtle English theme and plenty of timber, and downstairs, a more colourful dancefloor.
“The hotel serves many functions: traditional public bar at ground level, dining areas, dance parties, functions, night clubbing, corporate events, cocktail bar — literally all under one roof,” says Scarvelis. “There are cosy and intimate spaces for catch-ups, the traditional street-level public bar, to the high-impact warehouse space of the nightclub that harks to the intense high-style of LA.”
The team paid particular attention to adding extra drama with eye-catching light features. “The bar is such a focus for any premises, but in keeping with the scale and grandeur of Star Bar, the grand light fittings were created to reinforce and celebrate the scale,” Scarvelis continues. “Anything less would just not do justice to the space.”
Happily, Star Bar’s makeover actually precedes grander changes to the streetscape outside its walls. There are big things happening on the southern end of George Street. “The market down this end of town for serviced apartments and residences is absolutely red hot,” says Maloney. “It’s a very desirable place to live and work now.”
Wilmot Lane, which runs along the side of Star Bar, is set to be pedestrianised in 2014. This adds extra appeal to the large windows that now open onto the laneway. Maloney explains that the venue will eventually have outside seating on the footpath there. “I think that all dovetails into the bigger picture of, in a couple of year, the light rail that is going to run down George St,” he says. “So it’ll be a continuation of making that part of town a little bit more pedestrian friendly.”
ROUGH, NOW READY
Over the years, as with many dynamic parts of the city, George Street has become more varied, more modern and much busier. “When I started in this area in 1997, it was a very rough part of town,” Maloney remembers. “World Square [a large shopping mall a few streets away from Star Bar] was a big hole in the ground. It’s a very big part of Sydney now — I think about 50,000 people a day go to work, live, or visit, or shop around World Square. So it’s a very large regional town just in itself.” He cites other developments such as the Meriton apartments and the upcoming 66-storey Greenland Centre, which will encompass the Water Board building directly behind Star Bar and eventually (in around four years’ time) be the tallest building in Sydney.
It seems that everybody’s investing in George St South, so it’s fitting that they’ll have a newer, brighter Star Bar to go to when they want to let off some steam — any time of day or night.