The Imperial Erskineville — Sydney, Australia
A lost haven for cabaret acts and shimmering sequins that was once a favourite haunt for drag queens and their admirers in an inner city Sydney neighbourhood has returned to the hospitality stage for its triumphant second act. The Imperial Erskineville – a curvaceous 1940s corner pub – hosted performances from the 1980s for the LGBTQI community before retiring in 2015 in a dilapidated state. After an extensive makeover, she has been given a theatrical flourish worthy of her storied past by local firm Alexander & Co.
Downstairs, behind the main bar where a buxom Hugo Weaving crooned to Charlene’s ‘I’ve never been to me’ in the cult Australian film, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the namesake restaurant, Priscillas, and adjoining Garden Cocktail Bar are irresistibly tactile. Against a backdrop of stripped-back walls revealing flashes of old skin, rich jewel-toned marble, velvet and leather furnishings plus gilded trimmings, ruffles and tassel embellishments nod to the flamboyant costumes that once graced the space. ‘It’s a reclamation of the venue’s past theatre and hedonism reformed into something beautiful… a lost palace,’ explains Alexander & Co’s Principal, Jeremy Bull. The menu’s pledge of ‘Drag ‘n’ Dine’ is honoured every evening, with several performances occupying an alcove as guests sip on cocktails named after infamous drag queens and sup on Baja California fare offering an additional layer of spice.
Upstairs, at Imperial Up’s cocktail lounge and open-air courtyard serving casual Italian, the mood swings from a weighted baroque decadence to a lighter, cheekier affair. ‘It’s like an arts social club. Think quirky collector with an art deco flair – a contemporary version of Gertrude Stein’s salon,’ adds Bull. Pastel wall murals (‘funtown Matisse’) spill onto painted floorboards, and retro candy-shaded dining chairs mingle with custom leather seating atop a riotous graphic Memphis revival-style carpet, also designed by Alexander & Co, to complete the rainbow connection.
Vintage finds including a marble console sprouting palm tree legs plus a bronzed cubist lamp and golden nude statue (‘an icon repurposed from the lower floor’) gracing the mirrored island bar add high chrome appeal. The courtyard’s pizza oven clad in glistening mosaics is the perfect mega-watt contemporary counterbalance.
Both upstairs and down, The Imperial Erskineville is a kick up your heels, no ifs all struts entertainer. Whilst Australia’s first open air same-sex chapel is set arrive on the rooftop in the near future, it’s by no means exclusive. Here, everyone’s welcome.§