A chat with James Young, co-owner of the new Hotel Westwood.
18 months after being handed the keys, James Young – owner of Melbourne institutions Cherry Bar and Yah Yah’s – has finally opened the doors of the Hotel Westwood in Footscray.
A giant musical hole was left in the inner-west after the beloved Reverence Hotel closed in March 2019, with ownership earmarking the site for demolition. But after laying dormant for six months, Young and his team jumped at the chance to make the venue their own.
The pandemic delayed an April 2020 opening until November, which saw the car park turned into a funky alfresco beer garden. Now with the full venue open from Wednesday to Sunday, the goal for Westwood is to eventually host live music seven days a week.
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“We had the utmost respect for what The Reverence was, but we also recognised we can’t be what they were and in fact we don’t want to be what they were, we are going to be slightly different,” Young says.
“I’ve had success with Cherry Bar owning a particular genre. We are the rock’n’roll venue. But [the Hotel Westwood] can’t just be rock’n’roll because we want to be a pub with a 600-person capacity open seven days a week. It has to be for everyone.
“That means we expect to have the hi-vis construction working women and men coming in for a pot and parma, but we also want the families with the prams, dog walkers, people on their bikes, the students, the punks. The Footscray community is so used to being diverse that they can sit next to each other comfortably and I think that’s important.”
Bands such as Immigrant Union and Children Collide have already played the 350-capacity bandroom, while Bakers Eddy and RAT!hammock are just some of the standout names playing in the coming weeks. Rockabilly and country are a Sunday fixture, with blues, electronic music and drag brunches also on the cards, among many other exciting events. Utilising three stages to hold a mini-festival is also a “very realistic” target, according to Young.
“I’m already discussing with the major touring companies in Australia,” he says. “We’re a bit limited this year because we’re not getting the international tours we’d like to be getting yet, but the notion would be that biggish bands who play to 700 people at The Corner on a Friday or Saturday would pick up a weekday gig at Westwood.
“And my experience has been that the promoters, the artists, they like the idea of ticking the western suburbs box and they like the idea of playing to two different crowds in a Melbourne visit.”
The venue itself has retained its warmth and modesty; the front bar is perfectly fit for watching the footy, playing pool and enjoying a good old fashioned pub meal, while a new and more practical elongated bar is an excellent feature.
“We want [the front bar] to feel like a 1974 Aussie pub,” Young explains. “It’s got that warmth to it, a lot of wood, old artwork on the wall, these sort of traditional pub things. We’re not trying to create a shiny vision for what 2021 looks like.”
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The smaller bandroom is sectioned off, fresh with a cosy fireplace and what, in the future, will become a tequila bar. A vibrant Mexican-themed beer garden contains a new bar and DJ section before you reach the signature main bandroom at the back.
The menu will continue The Rev’s Latin American/Tex-Mex cuisine, with nachos, empanadas and taco. Pub classics will also be available, along with over 20 tap beers and a vast selection of bottled beer, wine, spirits and cocktails.
It wasn’t long ago when the corner of Whitehall and Napier Streets could evoke a bittersweet feeling for passers-by. Now the Hotel Westwood promises to breathe life back into the past while creating a legacy of its own.
“The rock was missing for a long time and it’s finally landed,” he says. “And I’m feeling that the right ripple is going out and things are going to be a lot better for Footscray and for Melbourne and I genuinely believe that if we continue to get it right and continue to listen [to the community] we’ll probably have the most talked about live music venue in Australia.”