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Review: Bernie’s Bar, Newcastle

Newcastle finally has a queer bar to call its own and it was worth the wait, writes Ryan Burrett.

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After a couple of weeks of soft launches and events, Bernie’s Bar finally had its grand opening weekend at the start of June, which saw the dancefloor and laneway bursting with energy and genuine excitement. 

It’s been a while since Newcastle had a dedicated LBGTIQA+ space, so with the recent rise of arts and cultural organisation Queer and Now and the ongoing achievements of Newcastle Pride, it feels like the time has never been better to have an established queer venue. In this way, Bernie’s Bar is a massive win for the community. 

Located in the Star Hotel building on Hunter St, this is not the first time the Star Hotel has experienced being part of LGBTIQA+ history; it has been acknowledged for its trans and queer history throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

The interior bar set-up features a big dancefloor, ample seating and a stage. The laneway outside the bar is spacious with plenty of tables and a smokers section. It was packed for the majority of the night on the two nights I was there with a crowd of people talking, laughing and filling the laneway with a palpably joyous energy. 

There has been a wide range of events programmed over the first month including make-up masterclasses, shibari lessons, speed dating, open mic nights, queer burlesque, a trivia night, stand-up comedy and BDSM life drawing. It feels like the nights have been done in consultation with the community and with an openness to switching things up and trying out a good idea. Regular weekly events include Winter Sweater on Sundays, which features an open mic and performers across the afternoon and into the evening. The venue has already hosted stellar local performers Jojo Zaho, Molly Poppinz, Poledance Dave, DJ Queerio and DJ Mason Andrews

Apart from all of the cultural and community offerings, there is a lunch and dinner menu available which features vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. One of the signature dishes is fairy bread, which we all know was invented by Australian gay icon Cherylyn Barnes. There is also a local flavour to the bar offerings, which is serving Earp Distillery and Good Folk Brewing. Along with, of course, a range of cocktails and full bar. 

One thing that makes Bernie’s really stand out is how accessible it is. The venue is fully wheelchair accessible from the interior ramp to the accessible gender-neutral toilets. It also has an entire section of the bar at wheelchair height. Something I have not seen in a venue in Newcastle; let alone a queer one. This will make it a place where all types of community organisations will be able to meet. 

There was a feeling of celebration and camaraderie between the punters and the staff who were all working their butts off to make sure things were running smoothly and a sense of gratitude towards the owners for making Bernie’s a reality. 

My only critique is that I did not hear Padam Padam in the two nights I got to spend there! But I imagine it’s only a matter of time until I hear it pumping..