Melbourne’s John Curtin Hotel to remain open as a live music venue as owner signs ten-year lease

The long-term lease was signed by current pub operator Ben Russell, who hopes the iconic venue "can continue to host live music well into the future"

The John Curtin Hotel will remain open as a live music venue, following news that its operators have signed a ten-year lease.

Operators of the Curtin Hotel announced the closure of the Melbourne venue in February of this year, revealing that the building’s owners had sold the site to overseas investors. The hotel’s lease was due to end on November 30, at which point operators — led by publican Ben Russell — predicted that the site would be redeveloped into apartments.

Now, it’s been confirmed that the overseas investor — who was reported to have purchased the site for $5.08 million — will re-lease the Curtin Hotel back to Russell for ten more years, days out from the old lease’s expiration. The new deal is the longest-running lease Russell has signed since taking over the pub in 2012, having previously leased the venue on a year-to-year basis.

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Broadsheet reported that the new lease will safeguard The Curtin from redevelopment, with Russell confirming in a press statement that the venue can now “continue to host live music well into the future”. Reports of the investor returning the lease to Russell emerged last week, but were officially confirmed by the publican today (November 25). “This is a really exciting day, for what has been a really stressful time since the building was sold,” Russell said.

It comes after months of campaigning against the pub’s redevelopment, led by its patrons, the live music industry and Victorian union groups. In April, trade unionists issued a ‘green ban’ on the venue which advised construction workers not to work on any potential developments. The ‘green ban’ has been credited in the past with saving fellow Melbourne buildings like the City Baths, the Regent Theatre and Flinders Street Station.

On top of the ‘green ban’, additional efforts to save the pub included a pledge from Hawke’s Brewery to offer a year’s worth of free beer to The Curtin in the event it remained open. Elsewhere, a campaign was launched to have the site protected by a heritage listing, alongside efforts for unions to purchase the pub themselves. A final ruling on the heritage status of The Curtin will take place in February of next year.

In an interview with NME in July, Curtin Hotel booker Paris Martine said the sale of the pub raised questions “about what ‘heritage’ is and what ‘community’ means and what value we place on the actual buildings that hold that community together.”

Meanwhile, in his own statement, Luke Hilakari of the Victorian Trades Hall Council — located across the road from The Curtain — said the community efforts resulted in “a fantastic win”. He continued: “I think the generations of people beforehand that have appreciated John Curtin would be very pleased to see that this generation of activists have stood up for an important historical union venue.”

The historic Carlton venue, named after 1940s Labor prime minister John Curtin, is one of Australia’s oldest pubs. The Curtin has long been a popular meeting place for labour movement members and union figures, and was a regular watering hole of former Labor PM Bob Hawke.

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It’s also been a mainstay of Melbourne’s live music community. In recent years the venue had hosted local acts including Amyl and the Sniffers, Magic Dirt, Alice Skye, Primo!, Exek, Constant Mongrel and many more, as well as internationals like Gang of Four, Japanese Breakfast, Big Thief, Protomartyr and Bass Drum of Death.

Upon announcing its closure earlier this year, Curtin operators unveiled a live gig program for the pub’s final week. While there are currently no music events scheduled beyond November 30, the venue will host five gigs before the month’s end, including two performances by Floodlights on November 29 and 30.

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