Universal Bar is celebrating 25 years at their home in the heart of Northbridge this Saturday, June 23. The festivities will feature long-term favourites Soul Corporation, who have been a popular staple for weekend entertainment at the venue for 15 years themselves. It’s a rare achievement for any venue, let alone one that specialises in live music and entertainment in such a competitive part of town, to stay so relevant for such a period of time. ZOE VOS caught up with the Director of Universal Bar, Trevor Candido to get the backstory of the iconic venue, the challenges of maintaining its popularity across generational changes and his thoughts on the future of Perth’s bar scene.
Congratulations on 25 years of Universal Bar. How are you going to be celebrating the occasion this weekend?
Yes, it’s a very big weekend coming up for us we’re and expecting a full house on Saturday. It will be a great time especially for our nearest and dearest members who will get to enjoy the occasion until 10pm and then we’ll open up both levels to everyone else after that.
What was Universal Bar like back in the early days?
When it started is was a small jazz and blues style venue and only a third of the size with a capacity of only 100 people. It now has two levels and can hold over 300 people.
How do you think you made it through the two decades?
To stay operating you need to diversify yourself and that is the direction we took. We became a function venue as well as a live music venue.
What do you have to say about the recent shutdown of various clubs like Lost Society, Malt Bar, Ambar and The Elephant and Wheelbarrow?
The economy and high rent is not helping the current downturns in the cycle of entertainment. When you are not as established with a regular clientele, the new venues opening up all the time can really hurt.
For us I believe it came down to our business model and diversifying and that is why we have been able to stay relevant. We are also lucky to have stable management and long term staff which provide a good working environment. The amount of venues versus the population is also another factor for sure. In the boom time we saw venues being built and then two years after completion the market had changed.
What do you think is in store for the future of the Perth bar scene?
The scene really has changed. Back when I started people used to go to one place for the night, now there seems to be more of a bar hopping mentality. The bar and pub scene has diversified and the night club scene has diminished. Who knows what the future will hold?
What do you think about the liquor licensing changes over the years?
Well what isn’t good is all the pop up bars getting licences over and above established business. This was something you could never do before, in fact getting a licence was very difficult. It has hurt the scene, especially established venues like us, having a tent pop up and steal your market at key times. You don’t see them in winter, when times are slower and then in summer to have the key market taken can be frustrating.
On the positive side we’ve seen Northbridge and other key precincts totally changed and become safer as well. In saying this, back then I feel that Northbridge always copped the worst of the media attention compared to other entertainment areas such as Freo, Leederville and Subiaco. It was never really as bad as people made it out to be. People must understand that there is a train station right near Northbridge which always brings more trouble due to accessibility. Northbridge really was a punching bag for the media over the years and it really wasn’t as bad as they made it out to be. But it’s definitely night and day from what it is now. The strip is now becoming exciting with spaces being used for small bars and restaurants which were previously empty.
Is the Northbridge Link making a change?
Certainly, but it hasn’t had a massive impact yet. It has also created more competition, given people of Perth seem to go to the new places and then come back to where they were. I have seen people come back over the years after not seeing them for 15 years. For a guaranteed night out with live music you can head to Universal Bar, and we are known for this. Overall it’s been a privilege to work in the industry and for Universal. At first I didn’t realise the responsibility of managing a venue, but now I feel proud that after 25 years we are still here and relevant.
The Universal Bar 25 Years Of Good Times is this weekend Saturday, June 23. To follow the action and join the discussion head to the Facebook Event.