Sydney's Man of Many Talents, Barrie Barton, opens the doors to his latest venture this week: a Golden Age-style cinema, bar, cafe, retail and creative hub in Surry Hills.
According to Barrie Barton, cinema as an industry is in an exceptionally healthy state in Sydney, based on year-on-year growth in attendance figures, but while events such as the St George Open-Air Cinema and multiplexes like George Street’s Event Cinemas might be booming, the niche end has struggled. The Academy Twin on Oxford Street, Paddington, closed a few years ago, and it would be little surprise if the Palace Verona, its stablemate, went the same way soon, too. “In part [arthouse cinemas] have themselves to blame because the environments are the same as they have been for decades,” says Barton. “Cinema is a beautiful artform but for so long it has been presented within bad architecture, with bad lighting, bad food… we’re trying to solve that problem.”
Barton’s answer? The Golden Age Cinema & Bar, a creative hub housed within the former Paramount Pictures building in Surry Hills, opposite dining institution Longrain. Barton has worked from the space with his business Right Angle Studio, publisher of the Thousands, for the past few years, collaborating with its owner to find temporary tenants, such as Joseph Allen Shea’s roving art exhibitions under the banner of Gallery A.S., but the time seemed right for a permanent venture. And given the building’s illustrious history, next to the former 20th Century Fox building and opposite the Hollywood Hotel, it only made sense to return the building to the world of cinema.
Originally, Right Angle Studio applied for a rooftop cinema and “wept for the future of inner-city living in Sydney, which seems destined to be run like a retirement village rather than a liberal, exciting and tolerant neighborhood” when it was declined. Instead, Barton has installed a 60-seat cinema and 60-capacity bar, and later this week wildly popular local café Reuben Hills will open an outpost within the space, called Paramount House Coffee Project, alongside Tokyo Bike and Pop Plant, as well as Right Angle, Vice Media and Heckler Post Production occupying the offices above. What makes the renovation significant is architecture firm Fox Johnson’s care for the heritage-listed building, a significant and one of the last remaining examples of Art Deco architecture in the area.
“It would be insensitive not to respond to and acknowledge the history of the building. Our job has been to enhance it, and so even the bar, which we built from scratch, nods to the architectural hallmarks of the building. We’re trying to be nostalgic, not sentimental, to nod to the history but make the experience modern.” And, indeed, the programming of the cinema is anything but tired, with radio broadcaster Kate Jinx curating a program that includes classics like Dogs in Space and The Graduate alongside contemporary releases Behind the Candelabra and Fantastic Mister Fox, with guest chefs matching food to the movie playing. And in keeping with the Cheap Tuesday promotion spruiked by the big cinema complexes, the Golden Age will offer tickets on Tuesdays for the same price as they would have been in the year of the film’s release.