Iconic Sydney jazz bar The Basement set to reopen as new-look Mary's Underground

Could the re-opening of Sydney's once-iconic The Basement, to be renamed Mary's Underground, be the first indication that the city's nighttime heartbeat is on the verge of being resuscitated?

Jake Smyth and Kenny Graham, the folks behind Mary's and The Lansdowne, think so and are determined to revive the venue that once staged Prince in 2012 back to its former glory.

"Our city has been schlepped around by lock-out laws but it won't stop us," says Smyth.

"It won't stop musicians from making music or finding a stage and we're here to give it another crack. The conversation that the Sydney live music scene is dead is an unfair one and it's untrue," he asserts.

Back on track

When the-venue-formerly-known-as The Basement closed its doors after 45 years last year, the city farewelled one of its oldest licensed venues. Now, in the capable hands of Smyth and his business partner Kenny Graham, Mary's Underground will put the needle back on the record and deliver a rotating roster of hip-hop, electronica, bluegrass, and urban acts.

Taking cues from 1930s cruise liner décor with a punk rock aesthetic, Mary's Underground is proof that cranking it to 11 is still possible in a city that has been struggling with lock-out laws since the NSW government legislated it five years ago.

"The reality is that every major city goes through swings and roundabouts," reasons Smyth of Sydney's changing nightlife.

"New York City's music scene in 2019 is very different to what it was in 2001, same goes for its dining and art scene. I don't think Sydney is finished at all. We love Melbourne and they've got it right, but our politicians have a lot to learn about governing a cultural hub and being responsible for one," he adds.

Choose your night

Mary's Underground will trade six nights a week until 3.30am, and while they will still need to comply with lock-out laws, are simply grateful the landlords AMP were open to giving live music another shot.


"We actually thought the site would become an underground carpark or basement retail giant," says Smyth.

"But when they said yes we signed a 10-year lease and will create a raucous and fun restaurant. We're here for the long haul. We also want to bring good food to the entertainment space," he says.

Food with benefits

Giving the dinner and show concept a revived run for its money, the emphasis at Mary's Underground is to give emerging talent a stage, while restaurant goers get more than they bargained for when the make a dinner booking.

A ratbag bar and grill theme rules the menu upstairs – where burgers stay classic and fried chicken is just that, while a 200 seated restaurant downstairs is where Euro-American cuisine will get a gourmet makeover.

Smyth says in the era where "everyone's a food critic thanks to the rising of shows like MKR", the old-world romance once associated with dinner and show formats has been lost because it's all been about the food over the past 10 years.

Eat, dance, roar

"That's directly impacted entertainment in restaurants. It hasn't rated and always stayed in the background," he says.

"We're here to say have a feed, have a dance and get rowdy.

"The Lansdowne is our indie punk sticky carpet and Converse live music venue, it's very much in our hearts, but we have another side to show now. We also have a responsibility to nurture the talent in our city. We're all about widening the musical conversation now," says Smyth.

Make sure you initiate yourself on opening night to say hi to Smyth's 70-year-old mum – who was the original door dame at the Basement 45 years ago. She returns for extra high kicks at Mary's Underground to party like it's 1973 again.