I’m a man of the arts, so I went and saw Blade Runner 2049 at the cinema before strolling over along a humid, brightly lit, mostly empty King Street. If I were more of a hack I’d make some comparison between Sydney’s broken nights under a Liberal state government and the suffocating authoritarian dystopia presented in the Blade Runner films, but I’m only a partial hack so I’m just going to say that much and make you do the work.
Inside, the place is empty. By that I mean the Marly, but it applies also to whatever broader geography you assumed.
In the main bar there are at least a dozen sports screens of different sizes tessellated onto the wall, and all are switched off. I think that now with the main footy seasons over, the bar staff must just want a break, which I can empathise with. Then I remember that it’s midnight on a Wednesday and there’s actually no sport on TV at a low cost at this hour, besides horse racing or dog racing, which can’t really be called sports or low-cost by anyone with an ounce of morality. And only an idiot would pay for ESPN for an empty room.
But the outside courtyard is packed, for two reasons. Firstly, because rich kids look good with cigarettes. And secondly, because while the Marly isn’t the closest pub to the private colleges populated by rich kids at the University of Sydney, it is the second-closest, and it is on King Street, which means it’s adventurous for them.
And that’s the thing that gets me. The Marly is a Newtown institution but tonight, midnight on a Wednesday, it’s empty but for a hive of rich kids out the back, tarring up their lungs like their dads did state politics and conversing with the kind of arts degree accents that made you drop out after two semesters and go learn a trade.
There are varying ages of “Newtown was different in my day”, and depending on what follows, it’s like a sociolinguistic carbon-dater. I think I might be four eras deep, and there are now even people under 25 with cause to say it. I’m generally suspicious and distrustful of urban protectionism, but mostly what we’ve all identified here is just different waves of rich people crashing in at different tide marks. ‘Keep Newtown Weird’? Keep Newtown affordable, the rest would have looked after itself.
None of this is The Marly’s fault, of course. As I’ve said before, a pub has to cater to whoever its locals might be, and it does a good job of it. I love The Marly. The bar staff are still cool and queer and this is still their neighbourhood. But the kids they serve tonight could buy the place tomorrow and slash their wages without even feeling bad, and it makes my stomach twist. (Don’t think for a second that they wouldn’t do it. Go join your union.)
Smoking rollies got cool because poor people do it, so here in this courtyard I have to witness the searing insult of a man-child whose dad probably owns a vineyard and a yacht asking to borrow tobacco. And it’s always the rich kids who ask if they can take a few additional pinches for their pouch, because they don’t know the true cost of anything and because a poor kid would never dare. The one element of working class identity that could never be aped is the kind of humility that comes from being ashamed about being ashamed of where you come from.
As I stew on this, I get hit on by a beautifully masculine but otherwise unremarkable young man, and I rebuff him so tersely, and he respects it so immediately, that I feel awful. He didn’t feel even remotely entitled to more of my time. That kid didn’t come from money.
When I later walked past to go inside, rather than look up at the gently apologetic glance I hoped to offer, he instead just stared down at his shoes. I know he was wishing they weren’t from Kmart, and that he could get things in life as easily as his mates do. They could afford to buy his family, but they still won’t buy a drink outside their shout.
Anyway. I saw Mike Whitney’s band play here once. That seems worth mentioning. They’re called the Mike Whitney Band. People queued to get in and everything. It was really fun.
The Marlborough Hotel, 145 King Street, Newtown. Phone: (02) 9519 1222.