The Tote: A New Era Begins
DARREN LEVIN gets a sneak peak at Melbourne’s new-look Tote Hotel, which re-opened its doors for the first time in five months at an industry shindig last night (June 10). Photos by ROBERT CARBONE.
It wasn’t so much a passing of the baton as a passing of the stamp. At 8pm on The Tote’s first night of business in five months, former proprietor Bruce Milne ceremoniously handed new licensees Jon Perring, Andrew Portokallis and Sam Crupi the infamous door stamp that’s branded so many patrons in the past. “Everyone in this room has had this embedded into their skin at one point – and now it’s time to pass it on,” said a jubilant Milne. “At this moment I bow out and these guys take over.”
Of course, it’s taken quite a journey to get here. In late January, as The Drones and Joel Silbersher sent the iconic pub off in style, the prospect of The Tote re-opening seemed about as likely as The Punters Club rising from the ashes of a cheap pizza den. The venue was branded with “high risk” security conditions and a $3500 increase in licensing fees, making it financially untenable for Milne and his brother James. But with the help of people power (20,000 protestors at February’s SLAM rally), The Tote opened its doors once more at an invite-only launch for media and friends last night.
“The only reason that this building is open is because everyone here, and thousands and thousands of other people, got together and did what the Melbourne music community’s never done before – and that’s get our shit together,” said Milne. “It was incredible watching Liquor Licensing and the government on their bended knees trying to work out how to appease the music community of Melbourne.”
But appease they did. According to new co-licensee Jon Perring, local Labor member Richard Wynne played a part in the pub’s re-opening. He also thanked new Liquor Licensing commissioner Mark Brennan for approving the new licence with minimum fuss, The Greens for lobbying the government and multi-millionaire landlord Chris Morris and his Colonial Leisure group for not selling the property to developers. “This could’ve been apartments within a blink of the eye,” said Perring. “There’s been lots and lots of goodwill everywhere through the community.”
He later announced that the rights to The Tote’s name, which had been held by the Milnes, had been officially handed over. “It was The Tote, and it is The Tote, and there’s going to be lots and lots and lots of rock’n’roll.” We were then treated to a preview screening of a new documentary. Directed by Natalie van den Dungen, it chronicled the pub’s journey over the past six years – from its 21st birthday celebrations in 2004 till the present. It was truly goose bump-inducing stuff.
The industry launch gave 200-odd punters a first look at the re-opened venue – and while nothing substantial had changed, there were still a few surprises. They included:
- The removal of the pool table in the front bar;
- Bulmer’s cider and imported German beer (Kölsch) on tap;
- A schmick Nexo PA in the band room that coped just as well with a seven-piece psych-country collective (Eagle and The Worm) as a garage rock duo (Digger & The Pussycats);
- No pillars in the bandroom, making for better sightlines. (Don’t worry: the roof has been reinforced with steel beams);
- A van in the beer garden serving $5 soft-shell tacos with homemade tortillas. (It could’ve been the aforementioned Bulmer’s, but I could’ve sworn Mark Wilson from JET was making them); and
- A burnt orange carpet that you could actually walk on.
And yet some things never change. Aside from a fixed door in the men’s cubicles, the toilets were still their dodgy old selves; the surly door bitch, friendly bar staff and familiar bouncers were all there; booker Amanda Palmer had been reinstated; and The Tote banner returned, hung up by Portokallis during Digger’s set. Cosmetically, most of the posters, fixtures and memorabilia were sold off at a recent auction (exposed brick was a common “design” theme), but a new jukebox had been installed, despite the glaring absence of a pinball machine and ATM. Stripped of its tiki lounge chic, the upstairs Cobra Bar looked a little worse for wear, but it’s surely a work in progress.
Welcome back, old friend.
The Tote is open for business this weekend, with an official launch slated for next Thursday (June 17). Stay tuned to M+N for further announcements.