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Adelaide UniBar balcony given '21st-century' makeover

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Adelaide UniBar has retained its iconic “second-hand chic” look for decades. Now, its managers are sprucing up the place to keep it relevant in Adelaide’s increasingly competitive bar scene.

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Gone are the dilapidated wooden tables and chairs and in are the milk crates, artificial turf and potted plants of the modern hipster-chic era.

Adelaide UniBar workers were busy over the summer break renovating the bar’s balcony in time for the start of the academic year.

“We wanted to make it a little bit more comfortable for students, a bit more 21st century, because a lot of UniBar hasn’t changed for a very long time,” venue manager Gen Turnbull tells InDaily.  

“Before, [the balcony] was just dining tables in a straight line and I guess it was pretty cold because there’s a lot of concrete in this building.

“Now, it’s a lot more comfortable, a lot more relaxed, and we’ve gone for the garden feel just to emulate the fact that we’re on a balcony and it’s got a really great view of the [Torrens] River and North Adelaide.”

Turnbull describes the changes as “grassroots”, with leftover garden wall tiles, recycled milk crates and pallet furniture adding to the look.

“We are a not-for-profit venue and the goal is to keep the prices down for our students,” she says.

“We just have to make the best of what we have and I think that’s what gives UniBar that raw student feel – almost like a student flat.”

Inside, UniBar’s signature torn carpet, dark lighting and exposed brick walls remain, as do the pool tables, games machines, and “The Guru” painting by local artist Bill Cook.

The 1981 painting was originally purchased by the Adelaide University Union, the former owner of UniBar. It was later removed by Adelaide University in 2005 for unknown reasons.

In typical student fashion a pubcrawl protest was held and the university eventually reframed and cleaned “The Guru” before hanging it back on the wall.

Bill Cook’s painting “The Guru” has become a UniBar icon. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

“He’s been there ever since,” Turnbull says.

“[Cook] actually came down last year and showed a few people his artwork and I don’t think he really knew how famous it’s become just among the student community that come into the bar.”

While the inside décor has remained virtually unchanged, UniBar’s food and drinks offerings have increased to cater for changing student tastes.

The kitchen has added loaded fries and an AB (hot chips topped with kebab meat, garlic and barbecue sauce) to its menu this year, on top of a selection of burgers, wedges and the ever-popular schnitzel.

UniBar is also introducing a selection of Australian craft beers to its drinks offerings, in keeping with trends in the beer industry.

“The student demographic, while they do enjoy the cheaper jug, they also like a quality product and I think that’s a focus we’d like to work on,” Turnbull says.

“We’ve come a long way from doing 50-cent beers on a Friday, to what we are now. The food quality has really increased, the beer range has increased, and overall we have just got a bit more to offer these days.”

UniBar’s indoor space retains its ‘student flat kind of vibe’. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

The bar’s live music program will be revised to focus on the local music industry.

“UniBar has been renowned for having local artists play and some of those have become quite famous,” Turnbull says.

“Lately we’ve had more larger shows and we’d like to go back to supporting the local scene and having more mid-range shows.”

Despite a balcony makeover and menu upgrade, Turnbull assures nostalgic Adelaide University alumni and current students the bar won’t abandon its “dingy” character.

“We definitely go for the chic second hand-feel and I guess that’s us using what we have,” she says.

“Even if UniBar had a paint job it would be a totally different place and it would change its feel completely.

“We will always retain the student flat kind of vibe.”

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