Knocking Back Gaga & Dancing With Morello: We Look Back At Cherry Bar's Time In AC/DC Lane

30 March 2019 | 10:59 am | Bryget Chrisfield

Staring down the barrel of Cherry Bar's final weekend in its current location, Bryget Chrisfield takes a trip down Memory (AC/DC) Lane.

"If you can remember anything about the '60s, you weren't really there" - Paul Kantner. The same could be said of Cherry Bar, the crown of Melbourne's bar and rock district, aptly situated in AC/DC Lane until the end of the weekend.

Collating scattered personal memories from many (mostly) zero recollection evenings spent at Cherry Bar over the years is a near-impossible task. But what we can attest is the bar's consistently welcoming atmosphere (unless, of course, Slug the bouncer thought you looked like a dickhead or you were wearing rubber thongs - of the footwear kind, G-bangers would undoubtedly be deemed welcome attire), reliably killer selection of tunes and potential for rock royalty to strut through the door at any given moment. Once inside, you could be forgiven for thinking you'd somehow been transported back to The Sunset Strip of the '80s and that's always A-OK with us. 

Cherry Bar is referenced in Airbourne's song Fat City - "Midnight bite at the Cherry/So sweet is the juice" - with frontman Joel O'Keeffe and co often seen propping up the bar whenever the band was in town. Melbourne rockers Jet also reportedly wrote Rollover DJ after many lost nights spent at Cherry. 

Founded in 1999, Cherry Bar's modest 200-reveller capacity meant that talking to randos was a given and if said rando happened to have an accent they were just as likely to be Black Sabbath's sound technician as a backpacker. A particular favourite for rock show afterparties (often held in the rear Jenni Bar), Cherry Bar was uncontested when it came to offering music fans their best chance at a brush with fame with an idol they'd worshipped from the crowd just a few hours earlier. Over the years, Cherry Bar has hosted afterparties for artists such as Motorhead, Queens Of The Stone Age, Kasabian and Oasis, with the bar also holding secret shows for acts including The Black Keys, New York Dolls, Mark Lanegan and The Tea Party.

If you headed to Cherry around any of the Soundwave or Download festivals, star sightings were pretty much guaranteed (see: footage of Tom Morello dancing among the crowd to Rage Against The Machine's Killing In The Name the night before Prophets Of Rage's 2018 Download set). 

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Just a little 14 second video from the Cherry back bar last night where the punters sing, jump and dance to Rage Against The Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of” with....lead guitarist from the band Tom Morello (the good looking fit bloke in the baseball cap on the right of screen). Just another night at your Cherry Bar, AC/DC Lane Melbourne.

Posted by Cherry Bar on Saturday, March 24, 2018

After refusing to attend the Guns N' Roses show (which was actually Axl Rose plus rent-a-band), on principle, at Sidney Myer Music Bowl in 2013, it was infuriating to wake up and see friends' selfies with Rose - taken post-show at Cherry Bar (of course) - posted on Facebook the following morning - should've just partied the night away at Cherry after all! 

For some reason even major stars such as Rose could pretty much party in peace at Cherry Bar as fans tended to be respectful when encountering their heroes up close and personal. During a recent chat with Michael Shuman (Queens Of The Stone Age, Mini Mansions, Arctic Monkeys) when he was in town for Arctic Monkeys' Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino tour, the musician/songwriter confirmed that "smart" fans of his bands always manage to find them during Melbourne visits. "They just know and they take a guess," Shuman acknowledged of said super-fans before confirming, "We went to Cherry Bar." Upon hearing that Cherry was moving outta AC/DC Lane, Shuman was shattered: "Why would they do that? That's a shame, a real shame. Damn!"

When Lady Gaga wanted to rent the place out to host a 4th of July party during her 2012 tour, Cherry Bar co-owner/booker James Young stayed true to Jackson Firebird's existing booking (the first night of the Mildura two-piece's Wednesday residency). Gaga and her entourage instead partied at Northcote Social Club on that occasion, but returned to Cherry Bar in 2014 when Gaga was photographed by punters dancing on the bar wearing lingerie and fishnets. 

This commitment to showcasing local talent and providing a stage for lesser-known acts is yet another reason why Cherry Bar rocks. And let's not forget the venue's weekly Soul In The Basement nights with Vince Peach and Pierre Baroni manning the wheels of steel, which played a hand in cultivating what is now a thriving soul scene in Melbourne, boasting the likes of Saskwatch, The Cactus Channel, Kylie Auldist, Hiatus Kaiyote and Deep Street Soul. The schoolgirl soul, funk and blues ensemble Sweethearts - based outta Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College in Geelong - also gained invaluable performance experience over the years thanks to their Soul In The Basement residency (the incomparable Alice Ivy among their alumni). 

This scribe's all-time favourite nights spent at Cherry Bar include Swedish rock royalty The Hives DJing one night during their 2015 Australian tour, standing near (and breathing in the same air as) Josh Homme after Them Crooked Vultures' 2010 set and chatting with Jesse Hughes in AC/DC Lane after the Eagles Of Death Metal show in 2009. 

During an interview I conducted ahead of Hughes' Cherry Rock 2011 performance, he recalled his first-ever visit to Cherry Bar: "I'll never forget the exact scenario, because I love music and I love to dance and I love to have fun... At that point I'd been around the world, so I had some concept of things, and I'm coming 'round and walking down AC/DC Lane and, as I get about halfway down, I can already hear what sounds like Bob & Earl's Harlem Shuffle - real badass soul music. And I'm like, 'Wow!' And then I get up to the door and - I think his name was Slug, at the door - this badass dude lets me in, and when I get in I see nothing but beautiful kids dancing to soul, sincerely having a good time. I mean, real dancin', like, boys and girls, romance... When you're in Hollywood, everyone's too cool to dance, you know what I mean? So the first time I ever set foot in Cherry Bar, I was blown away by the rock. Cherry Bar and I are really very close." 

Apart from all the reasons listed above, and the fact that Cherry Bar always proved to be a sure-thing pick-up joint (if that's what you were after, we also know of married couples who first met at Cherry), we will miss endless Cherry Bons (Jagermeister and dry ginger ale, we think), the comfort of AC/DC Lane - and those alcoves you can sit in - for smoke breaks, the ambulant toilet (forensics had better not shine a black light in there!?) and the sense that the best night of your life was just a heartbeat/chance encounter away. 

During Oasis' 2002 Australian tour, Noel Gallagher offered to buy Cherry Bar (could someone not have gotten in touch with him to see whether he could match the offer made by Nick and Daniel Russian? To preserve Cherry's rock'n'roll roots?). 

Even though Young has promised Cherry Bar will move to a new home, this weekend still feels like the end of an era. Cherry will be eternally remembered as an internationally recognised institution and this AC/DC Lane location is set to become the stuff of legend. Here's hoping the OG Cherry Bar medallions are good for free entry at the new, yet-to-be-named location as well!

Get down there this weekend before it's too late, kiss the sticky carpet (through a dental dam) and be part of rock'n'roll history before it's too late. We'll see you at the bar!

Chrisfield at Cherry Bar