How FAD Gallery became the institution it is today
15.11.2019

How FAD Gallery became the institution it is today

Words by Meg Crawford

Once you find FAD Gallery, it’s not uncommon to become part of the furniture. Take Venue Manager Oriana Aprico-Wister who’s been with FAD for 12 years. “Yeah, it’s just a little bit of time,” she laughs.

Aprico-Wister’s attachment to FAD is testament to a bunch of things. First, she loves the place wholeheartedly.

“Oh mate, it’s my favourite place in the world, so I’m a bit biased,” she says. “There’s nothing like it. It’s got so much character”.

Second, FAD’s been cool ever since its inception. When Owner Johnny Halleday opened the venue 24 years ago, tucked away in Corrs Lane in the heart of Chinatown, it attracted buzz as one of Melbourne’s first laneway bars. It’s remained a beloved icon ever since. Sadly, it’s now also something of a unicorn.

“Yeah, it’s the last of a dying breed for small bars owned and run by one person,” confirms Aprico-Wister.

That FAD, which stands for “fotographic art and design”, has never fallen out of favour while other bars have come and gone is a nod to its eclecticism and purpose.

“From the outset, it’s been a place of assembly and a cultural hub,” explains Aprico-Wister.

Functioning as parts gallery, bar and sometimes comedy club, it also operates as a home-away-from-home for its patrons and regulars.

“Anyone can come in and have a great time all the time. It’s like going into your living room and having a dance and everyone’s family. You know the TV show Cheers? It’s like that on heat, that’s the only way I can explain it.”

It’s also somewhat of a destination venue for out of towners, who are also wont to return.

“We get a lot of people from overseas or interstate who always specifically, when they come back to Melbourne, want to come to FAD. There’s a couple from WA who come to Melbourne every six months and for the ten days that they get to have a holiday, they’ll spend every night in at FAD Gallery.” 

So, why can’t people stay away? FAD’s range of regular nights are part of the puzzle. The week starts on Tuesdays, which are customarily laidback, attracting a bunch of regulars kicking off the working week, amongst others. Next up is Wine and Whine on Wednesdays.

“It’s for that mid-week hump,” Aprico-Wister explains. “Hence the ‘whine’. You can have a rant and a beverage”.

Then there’s live music every Thursday, while Friday and Saturday launch the weekend with something akin to a house party. Other nights see Aprico-Wister take over the decks, playing everything from Bowie to the Stones, with “good time” being her guiding vibe.

“Whatever’s good for a boogie,” she adds.     

FAD’s super popular and free Thursday nights are further evidence of the loyalty the venue demands, featuring long-term residencies by firm favourites.

“Rocky and the Two Bob Millionaires play every second Thursday of the month and they’ve been playing with us for over a decade,” marvels Aprico-Wister.

While Rocky and co. are a rock two-piece, the other residencies include FAD’s funk, soul and blues house band, Frank Raymond & The Silhouettes – the lineup of which includes Halleday moonlighting as Frank Raymond – and neo-soul chanteuse Bernadette Novembre backed by her ever-smooth ten-piece band.

As for patronage, it’s as diverse as you’d expect, with punters spanning the ages 18 to 85.

“It’s like the best bag of lollies. There’s one of everything. No joke. From lawyers to publicans to artists and everything in between. It’s the best bunch of people who can assemble in one place, but no dickheads. That’s our only policy. You can be whoever you want to be, just so long as you’re not a dickhead.”

Find FAD Gallery at 14 Corrs Lane, CBD, open from 4pm til late Tuesday to Saturday. For more information, visit fadgallery.com.au or their Facebook page.