I’m in lockdown in Sydney’s Inner West as I write this and it has been over three years since I moved East for work, but I remained a regular patron of Mount Lawley’s revered pub, The Flying Scotsman, if “regular” could encompass “every time I was back in P-Town with an afternoon to kill”.
Sadly, I received word last night that the Scotto, currently closed due to the ‘Rona, would not reopen – the landlord had decided that the pub’s lease, up next month would not be renewed. The Scotto’s social media confirmed the awful news this morning:
To everyone that has supported our venues; The Flying Scotsman, Caboose, Defectors, Velvet Lounge and Grumpies, we want to thank you all for being a part of our family and culture.
During these tough times it seems the landlord does not want us to renew the lease. We will hold on to our memories of the Scotto forever and what an amazing ride it has been over the last twenty years.
Again, from all the team, we want to say thank you for making the Scotto a place where everyone felt welcome and had a good time.
Stay safe out there!
Love the Scotto, Caboose and Grumpies crew
Well, bugger. That’s a stake through the heart of Mount Lawley right there, a neighbourhood already swaying on its feet under the burden of ludicrous commercial rents. The material damage of the pub shuttering is terrible with jobs lost and careers derailed, but the symbolic wound is almost as mortal. To call the Scotto iconic is an understatement. It’s an institution, commanding the corner of Beaufort Street and Grosvenor Road, offering a clear shot into the heart of the city. Summer Sunday afternoons over jugs of Coopers Green and cheap pizza were all but mandatory. Tuesday nights were blocked out for $15 rump steaks. Cheapass Wednesdays saw that multiple generations of impoverished uni students were pie-eyed on a school night. Music happened there in the Velvet Lounge. Comedy nights occurred upstairs in Defector’s cocktail bar. The joint has been witness to birthdays and wakes and even the occasional wedding, which always struck me as a bit gauche but really, who am I to judge?
It’s a touchstone for the NOR arts community, a tribe who greatly appreciate the value of cheap beer and reasonable counter meals, and you simply could not count the number of bands, plays, films, and other creative projects that could trace their genesis to one of the torn-coaster-littered outdoor tables. Art is baked into the joint’s DNA, as evidenced by the pop culture chalkboards created by local artist Johnnage the Brave. One week Marty McFly might be encouraging punters to “Stand to Smoke, Sit to Drink” in compliance with local council bylaws, the next it might be Lo Pan or the Terminator. John himself was a regular patron and could often be found scribbling away at the bar, his notepad carefully protected from the condensation pooling around his pint glass.
It’s a good bar for writing, or drawing, or reading; with Planet Books (and formerly Planet Video, may she rest in peace) directly across the road you were well catered for if you fancied an afternoon of literary drinking, which I’ll admit I quite often did (and do). The doggoes and Good Bois of Beaufort Street were welcome there, and it was a rare day if at least a few dogs weren’t happily ensconced under tables collecting admiring pats and the occasional shoestring fry from patrons. It’s a bar where you felt comfortable being alone, but it was never better than when you were there en masse. The tribes mingle freely around the Big Buck Hunter machine; musicians and artists and students and punks, suburban families and urban couples, comedians and entrepreneurs, journos and filmos, cash-strapped TAFE students getting the most out of a jug, and booze-sozzled businessmen having a long and blurry late lunch. It was a peaceable place for the most part; I only remember one big brawl in 20-odd years of patronage, and maybe a handful of minor scuffles over the same period; you were more likely to see a car crash at the Beaufort and Walcott Street intersection, of which there were plenty. Still, it retained a rougher, slightly seamier tone than its streetmates; I don’t want to cast aspersions on other venues, but let’s just say I’m pretty sure The Scotto could take the Queens in a fight.
The tense in this piece has been a nightmare. I don’t want to speak of the old girl in the past tense, as narrower reprieves have been won in the past and there’s always a chance, albeit a slim one, that some kind of accommodation can be made – the community outrage is already building, and a lot of people with vested interests in having a decent place to drink have an awful lot of time on their hands at the moment. Still, a stay of execution tends to only delay the inevitable, as veterans of the long-running Battle of the Hydey can attest to. The most likely scenario is a purchase by ALH or one of the other big hospo groups, a drive-in bottle shop where the Velvet Lounge now sits, an across the board price hike, and a notable lack of anything resembling local culture occurring within its once-hallowed walls. I’ve seen the future and it’s a bored contractor taking a scraper to X-Press Magazine wallpaper forever.
But no, the world is miserable enough right now, and so we should laud the Scotto rather than mourn her. It feels weird toasting such a venerable and beloved boozer from thousands of miles and several locked down borders away, but needs must in these strange times. Here’s to beers and books and banter, charged arguments over art and literature and music, loud bands and bawdy comics, cheap steaks and cheapskates, long lazy afternoons in the sun and cozy autumn evenings under the heaters, old friends and new loves and family. Here’s to the Scotto; she was the best.