Bar’s closure blow to city’s music scene

One of the last scarfie watering holes and bastions of live music in Dunedin has closed without fuss or fanfare.

Starters Bar, formerly known as The Oriental and The Fat Lady’s Arms, was shut during Alert Levels 4 and 3, in line with Government regulations, and the decision not to reopen was due to "health and safety concerns" around the building.

It was bought by the Otago University Students’ Association in 2018, and both the association and prominent Dunedin musicians were devastated by the closure.

OUSA president Michaela Waite-Harvey. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
OUSA president Michaela Waite-Harvey. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
OUSA president Michaela Waite-Harvey said the building had "a risk rather than an active continuing harm".

"That being said, it was decided that this risk was sufficient to warrant our exit from the building to ensure safety was the top priority."

She could not say anything more while final arrangements with the landlord were being completed.

The hunt was now on for an alternative venue.

"We are reaching out to stakeholders like the Dunedin City Council and the University of Otago to work to secure a new venue for Starters.

"We know that the bar is important for student safety and harm reduction — that’s why we are committed to finding a new venue for the bar."

Starters had also become an important live music venue in Dunedin, and the loss of yet another such venue would be felt in the community, she said.

The best of Dunedin’s and New Zealand’s alt-music scene performed there regularly, including The Chills, The Bats, The Double Happys, Look Blue Go Purple, Netherworld Dancing Toys, The Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings and Strait Jacket Fits.

The Chills lead singer Martin Phillipps was saddened to hear of the closure.

"We’ve really enjoyed our gigs there over the last few years, and also back in the 1980s when it was still The Oriental and it was the place to go.

"It was the perfect-sized venue for the very active indie/Flying Nun touring scene that was happening then."

The Clean bass guitarist and The Bats vocalist Robert Scott paid tribute to the venue as playing a big part in his rise to fame.

"There was a lot of really good nights there. We had some amazing times," he said.

"It was that old-style, very straightforward place to play. There was never any hassles and there was always a good crowd."

Save Dunedin Live Music spokesman David Bennett said the closure was a "heavy blow" to the Dunedin music scene.

"Starters Bar was the only venue filling the gap for mid-level touring bands with specific technical and capacity requirements, and with its closure many tours will have to cross Dunedin shows off their lists."

Save Dunedin Live Music spokesman David Bennett outside Starters Bar, which, as The Oriental,...
Save Dunedin Live Music spokesman David Bennett outside Starters Bar, which, as The Oriental, hosted many well-known Dunedin Sound bands. PHOTOS: PETER MCINTOSH & SUPPLIED
Mr Bennett said the venue also acted as "a launch pad" for bands formed on campus, and was a home to O Week events, the university Battle of the Bands, music industry workshops and a large number of events designed to foster inclusion, diversity and promotion of music in Dunedin.

He hoped the music community would band together to demand the city recognise the importance of a vibrant music scene, and plan ways to foster it.

"It needs to be a priority to work with owners of historic buildings to help preserve these spaces.

"We need to do more to protect our existing venues and to facilitate the opening of new venues.”

john.lewis@odt.co.nz

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