Enmore has stepped out of the shadow of Newtown over the past five years and transformed its main street into one of Sydney’s most thriving entertainment hubs.
Its reinvention got a kick along from the introduction of lockout laws in the inner city – punters turned to the inner west for entertainment, breathing new life into the bar scene.
The revolution was confirmed in 2016, when Justin Hemmes decided to get a piece of the action and bought the Queen Victoria Hotel, transforming it into Merivale venue Queen Chow.
And its supremacy was confirmed last year, when Time Out declared it one of the 5 Coolest Streets in Sydney.
The website noted: “While King Street claims a lot of the glory, the other main artery of Newtown – joining up with Enmore (of course) and Marrickville – is a haven of excellent restaurants, bars and pubs and boutiques with a taste of the local ‘weird is welcome’ edge. If you could eat your way through every single place to grab a bite on this strip, we’d be impressed. The action centres around the historic Enmore Theatre (118-132 Enmore Rd). The Art Deco landmark is a legendary culture hub with creds in live music and comedy gigs. While some of the portals to the street’s old character have succumbed to shiny new fit-outs (RIP, Sly Fox Hotel) there are still remnants of Enmore Road’s rough-n-ready, laid-back charm and inclusive spirit.”
Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Enmore businesses have supported each other and that camaraderie and spirit has been embraced by punters, who are flocking back to venues in 2022.
Odd Culture Group revitalises Duke of Enmore
Among the success stories of the suburb is the Duke of Enmore hotel. The Odd Culture Group – known for shaking up Sydney’s hospitality scene with a strong focus on inclusive and diverse venues, great food and drinks, and strictly pokie free venues – took over the pub and reopened it in 2020.
One of Sydney’s last grungy, late-night dive bars has been transformed into a mecca for the off-shift hospo crowd and night owls. Sabrina Medcalf (above), licensee and “Dark Lord of The Duke” said that Enmore is “always moving and shaking, and it’s cool to be a part of the process”.
“I think the first cab off the rank for us was developing the physical structure of the pub, a few small tweaks to open up the space and allow our customers to have more elbow room around the joint,” she said. “Some things didn’t make sense, so we were smashing down walls and pulling off bulk heads and the difference to the experience at the bar immediately changed.
“We went pretty far on a new refurb of our kitchen: it’s open and it’s bad to the bone – you can see our woodfire oven from the entrance of the pub, it’s had an incredible lick of paint featuring this devil-like beast we’ve affectionately named Beasty.
“We’re proud to say we pulled out our pokies at the pub and went for an offering based on quality customer service and a pretty unique and special food and beverage offering,” she said. “We dig the hell out of the area and want to keep adding to its vibrance. It feels like a very developed area of Sydney, and I’d be proud to show it off to all my overseas friends and show them what Sydney night life should be about.”
As for what makes the suburb so special, Medcalf said its combination of intimacy and diversity is one of its biggest assets.
“You can basically walk from one end of Enmore to other and receive different treatment and offerings but at the same time everything feels familiar,” she said. “It’s like one big fat degustation menu!”
The live music scene is another major drawcard, from the Enmore Theatre to record stores and bars dishing out blues and rock up and down the strip.
“We wanted to keep that momentum alive at The Duke, but take it further with a seven-day entertainment roster,” Medcalf explained. “We want to change the way people view a pub through elevating the customer experience and what they put in their mouths. The Duke basically shakes with good times.
“I generally see The Duke as this living breathing thing of the night. We worked on developing it into a live music hub and the thing basically grew on its own.”
While it’s been a challenging time for the industry, Medcalf said businesses in the area have banded together to keep Enmore Road’s momentum alive. During the darkest days of the pandemic, the Duke even started serving free meals to hospitality staff who’d lost shifts due to COVID-19.
Now, while many areas of Sydney still feel a little desolate, Enmore is buzzing again.
“Enmore Road is kind of like the Vegas strip meets small country town,” Medcalf explained. “You walk down that road and every single person knows each other, full of characters and charm and total love for the area. Its loud and unique and a bit of a melting pot of cuisines.
“I think every single restaurant and bar has an al fresco dining area – the ultimate people watching experience. Combine all of that with Enmore Theatre, our big brother of live music, and the concrete cowboys that roam the street and you can’t help but ask where the hell am I and why would I ever leave?!”
Enmore Road scores SEP status
The NSW government recently unveil a pilot program to support councils to set up Special Entertainment Precincts (SEPs) in Sydney, with Inner West Council voting last year to establish a SEP along Enmore Road.
The council has introduced a raft of measures to lift restrictions in Enmore to allow live music to thrive again.
“This is a great initiative to help our live music industry and hospitality sector to get back on their feet following the COVID-19 pandemic,” planning minister Rob Stokes said.
“The program will give live performances a boost by helping councils cut red tape and encourage a thriving live music and entertainment scene. We want to see the NSW night-time economy grow while ensuring it’s diverse, vibrant, safe and inclusive.”
Medcalf applauds the move, as it gives the opportunity for more small bars and restaurants to “claim a stoop and give the people more and more of what we need right now”.
“We’ve kind of put ourselves on the map already so I think Enmore is in brilliant hands,” she said. “I think the focus right now is to support each other and keep doing what we do best – the rest will come!”