Constitutional change at the Republic Bar, North Hobart

Wednesday, 13 July 2016 2:23 PM

Building on their suburbs’ chequered past, the owners of the present day Republic Bar in Elizabeth Street, North Hobart, have embraced the local spirit of resilience to create a unique live music mecca for global artists.

Like most colonial suburbs fringing a settlement, North Hobart (first called Providence Valley) has survived as a hideout for bushrangers, a suburban market garden (coincidentally farming hops) and middle-class suburb with perhaps too many pubs and too many stouches, before a decline which almost saw its demise in the 1980s – marked as ‘old and decadent’ by authorities, ear-marked for demolition.

The will of the people saved the suburb and North Hobart in the 1990s became gentrified (wider footpaths, more trees), bohemian and culturally rich. People power was in the wind, with the Republican Movement also gaining momentum in the late 1990s and inspiring the new son and father owners and managers, Jeremy and Tony Heath, to enact a 180-degree name change from The Empire to The Republic (it’s third name change in 185 years, formerly The Rose, then The Rose and Crown).

“We wanted to create a triplej style music scene,” said Jeremy Heath, Manager, “This was the music I loved at the time and I could see there was a void in the market. Most Pubs were dabbling in cover bands and not much else. We started when artists needed to make more money by touring more often, and were looking for boutique venues, so we positioned ourselves to be part of that. Our bandroom accommodates about 350 comfortably, but we adjust depending on the band and the audience.”

Hobart is seeing somewhat of a renaissance in tourism with accommodation occupancy regularly in the 90 per cent range. This sends a new flush of patrons, musicians and media to The Republic to complement the local patronage and those travelling from across Tasmania for a gig.

Jeremy and Tony Heath wanted to create ‘constitutional change’ for pub operations:

  • They became the first Tasmanian Hotel to voluntarily become smoke free, starting a movement which gave government the madate to enact legislation;
  • They hosted live music every day, from day one;
  • They refuse to install poker machines;
  • They wanted fans to hear the music before deciding to come to a gig – they are one of very few Hotels in the country to have music videos on their Hotel website;
  • They believed in ‘muso word of mouth’ – once one band loves a venue, others will follow, from Steve Polpz (collaborator with Jewel on You Were Meant for Me), The Black Keys and CW Stoneking (his first ever gig);
  • Food any way you like it – as well as top pub nosh (they have a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence and a 4 star rating), they open their BBQs up to the people – bring a Cape Grim steak in for a fry up and simply pay for the gas;
  • They wanted to hear from as well as share info with their fans – 8,000 email subscribers and 8,000 Facebook fans regularly offer up fertile ideas.

Even though the suburb is now one of the most sought-after in Hobart, the Heaths are guardians of the various ‘lives’ of the Hotel: the heritage-listed sandstone wall, the 1830s timber floor boards, the 1930s art deco façade, the aural history provided by cricketer Max Walker (who’s father owned the Hotel for a time) and modern day renovations.

“My favourite performance was when Jimmy Little came to play to a full house, of course. My Mum and my 87 year old grandmother were in the front row. Nan had seen Jimmy 40 years before. That was a goose-bumps moment that only live music can give,” said Jeremy.

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