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Meet Red Betty, Melbourne's mysterious new bar offering live music for all music tastes

“I think we might be the only bar with 3D wallpaper in it,” says Sal, one of the four friends who got together to transform Red Betty into what it is in April last year.

Image source: 
John Carney

The statement perfectly describes the uniqueness and wackiness of the hidden laneway bar in Brunswick. What used to be a theatre for magic shows is now a place where people can go to enjoy music in a small, intimate setting.
 
“You don’t actually know what to expect when you walk in on any one night. One night you’re going to walk in and there’s a post-punk band and then the next night it might be DJs or acoustic,” Sal says. “We have a really huge variety of bands, anything from indie-pop to post-punk and rock and anything in between them. Then with DJs, it could be anything from hip hop to soul, funk and reggae through to house and techno, it’s super varied.”
 
Knowing that they wanted to open a bar in Brunswick, where the four friends live, Sal describes the timing of finding the bar as “serendipity”. The group wanted the bar to be in an area between Sydney Road and the Upfield railway line in Brunswick, as that area is semi-industrial with not a lot of houses around, so they would be less likely to get noise complaints. Two weeks after the group got together and decided they were going to buy and open a bar, the magic theatre in Houdini Lane that they were familiar with was up for sale, and it all just worked out perfectly.
 
“I think our location is a blessing and a curse, the curse is that people do find it hard to find and don’t really just stumble across it, sometimes they do, but not very often,” says Sal. “But it’s great as well because I think when people find it they feel a bit special.
 
“It’s just a kooky little venue, I guess it’s a good thing, people’s reaction to it is quite lovely as well which I’m quite pleased about.”
 
Opening the bar itself was a big achievement because the quartet of friends had to renovate the space. Their goal when opening was to make a really multi-use venue space that people would want to come and see music in, while also being somewhere that performers would want to play in.
 
“Maybe that’s why people relax here,” Sal ponders. “Because it’s not this huge overwhelming space, it’s very manageable. It has a really intimate feel to it.”
 
When performing in the small room licenced to hold 40 people, it usually brings out the best in the performers because they feel relaxed and can let go without feeling any pressure. Sal says she always saw the bar as a place where people might perform if they want to try out new material or launch something, but they don’t want the pressure of filling 150 people in a room.
 
Red Betty has a snug and cosy vibe but when there’s a band playing and you fill it with a room full of people, it feels like a really good house party, but with a bar in it, which is what the team was going for. With a “No Dickheads” policy, they also strive to create a safe space for performers and crowd members to enjoy their night safely and comfortably. “We have a really mixed crowd which I really love, everyone feels free to do their thing there and that’s super important to us. Three of us that run the venue all work behind the bar so it’s got a very homely and welcoming atmosphere.”
 
In the future, the owners would like Red Betty to be open later until 3am and also see it open more nights of the week. They want to see it grow it with more music, as well as comedy and take part in festivals. But for now people should go and check out Red Betty for the variety of music being played and because you’re always bound to get a good drink that won’t break the bank.
 
“I feel like we’re really just starting to get to know what we’re about and things are starting to grow with having gigs every weekend,” Sal says. “I’m just really excited about what’s going to happen in the next few years. I’d love us to become an enduring little music venue.” 

Enter Red Betty via Houdini Lane, behind 859a Sydney Rd, Brunswick. Find more details on their upcoming gigs via their website.