Live music has long been a form of escape, especially in the midst of hard times. Times have certainly been tough lately, especially in Brisbane’s music scene. Rescheduled tours, last-minute cancellations and capacity restrictions have cast a pall over Brisbane’s typically thriving gig scene, but musicians and punters have endured these doldrums with the promise of better times ahead. The anticipated opening of Woolloongabba’s Princess Theatre has been one of the most luminous lights at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel ever since The Tivoli team – helmed by sibling owners Steve and Dave Sleswick – announced that it had taken over the long-standing theatre back in April. The State Heritage building, which has sat largely idle near the Mater Hospital for years, is finally reaching the finishing point of its nine-month renewal process. Finishing touches are now being applied to the building ahead of its official launch party, Open Housewarming, which is taking place this weekend on October 2–3. While the public only has a few days to wait until the theatre’s new-look interior is revealed, the Sleswicks – alongside prominent Brisbane businessman and fellow Princess Theatre co-owner Steve Wilson – have already unveiled Fables Bar & Cafe, the building’s on-site eatery and drink spot, as well as upstairs balcony space The Gallery.
Since taking over The Tivoli in 2016, Steve and Dave have endeavoured to make the famed Fortitude Valley venue more accessible to impromptu visits, evidenced in the 2019 conversion of the building’s entry space into bar and band room What’s Golden. When considering the holistic potential of the Princess Theatre building, the team wanted the venue to encourage a more interactive relationship between locals and theatre from the outset, ensuring it was seen less as a occasional gig spot and more as an approachable all-purpose locale. After negotiating to take on the building’s street-side cafe space, the team set about making it a public-facing extension of the theatre’s overall personality. While the Princess Theatre name has been retained, the new ownership group has made a concerted effort to eschew the British Colonial connotations associated with the building’s previous identity, breaking down and subverting those structures by opting for a more fantastical interpretation of what the Princess could stand for. With input from interiors expert Sophie Hart and heritage architect JDA, the team has taken a mythological, fairy tale-influenced direction for the Princess Theatre’s decorative revamp. Modern and heritage elements mix and light and dark tones contrast in order to evoke a sense of enchanted theatricality, with both Fables and the The Gallery informed by the same fantastical magic. Fables (which also offers outdoor seating spanning the building’s front) boasts the moodier interior palette of the two spaces, with exposed brick, blue tiling, vibrant jellyfish-adorned wallpaper and plenty of gold trim (as well as rotating art pieces crafted by visual theatre company Dead Puppet Society) establishing an enlivening sensory introduction. Ascend the building’s grand central staircase and you’ll find The Gallery, a calm and inviting bar and function area that possesses a sense of pared-back contemporary elegance and hints of Art Deco glamour. Blush tones soak up an abundance of natural light, while the balcony offers guests a primo perch overlooking Annerley Road.
Fables Bar & Cafe is designed to be a multidimensional outlet that caters to everyday community essentials and show-night revelry. Locals can pop in from 6:30 am onwards for cups of Allpress Espresso and pastries, while a lunch menu offers up a selection of drool-worthy sandwiches to munch on. Stiffer drinks become available later in the day, with craft beer (including the Golden Arrow – the Princess Theatre’s own pale ale brewed in conjunction with beer partner Green Beacon), wine from City Winery’s in-house label Gerler and house cocktails like the Cobra’s Fang (rum, house-made fassionola, velvet falernum, absinthe, orange, lime and bitters), Sunset Studies (gin, lemon, mulberry jam and aquafaba) and the Hazy Paloma (a mixture of blanco tequila, Campari, grapefruit, lime, soda and IPA foam) doubling as both casual evening knock-offs and energetic gig fuel. In the coming months Fables will expand to include a full breakfast menu, more takeaway lunch options, gig-friendly bar snacks and a special range of Bloody Mary cocktails. Tickets for upcoming performances will also be available to purchase directly from Fables, while television screens will air previously recorded shows. The Gallery will be open during the day as a casual chill-out zone for folks eager to do some work with a coffee in hand and is also available to hire as a conference space, though The Gallery will close to the public on show nights to service audiences sitting in the Princess Theatre’s mezzanine. The alleyway that runs between the Princess Theatre and Dead Puppet Society’s studio leads to Clarence Courtyard – a casual street art-adorned outdoor space that will also debut this weekend. This area will be accessible to the public on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, with a shipping-container bar slinging drinks and DJ sessions curated by the crew at QUIVR keeping the vibes on point into the evening.
Fables Bar & Cafe is open to the public – head to the Stumble Guide for more information. The Princess Theatre’s first official event, Open Housewarming, is taking place this Saturday and Sunday from 2:00 pm to late and features a two-day program of performance theatre and live music from the likes of Briefs Factory (who are performing to the sounds of Sahara Beck), Sampology, Australasian Dance Collective, Architects of Sound and Tijuana Cartel. Tickets are $10 per person and can be purchased at the door on the day.