Caesars at The Clarence Hotel, Petersham: A half-arsed shambles

caesars_not name only unfortunately

I went to the Clarence Hotel at Petersham last night to see if their revival of the legendary ‘Caesars’ was any better than the shambles it was on opening night.

On opening night I went along very excited that Caesars was back and also that finally there was Gay venue for regular Gays in the inner west. There’d been talk about a lot of work done to the ‘Mannacle’ room to ready it for its new incarnation so I was expecting a bright, fresh, accessible look.

That was the first disappointment. Walking into ‘Caesars’ (and they really shouldn’t be able to call it that, they’ve done such a half-arsed attempt) I immediately noticed one thing: it was still ‘Manacle’. That is – it is still like walking into a filthy dungeon. It looks like a sex-on-premises venue inthe bowels of Darlinghurst. Which was fine when it actually was ‘Manacle’. But as ‘Caeasars’ it is completely wrong.

The second thing was the bar staff. They were snooty and unfriendly – again, the complete opposite of the spirit of the original Caesers. I was curious about this so I asked one of them about this – the bottom line is that they don’t like working there when the venue is ‘Caesars’. They are leather/fetish people and are not happy that the Clarence Hotel isn’t Manacle anymore. And it is obvious that this attitude pervades all their dealings with customers and provides yet another downer on the whole night.

Last night, some four weeks later, I walked in again with fingers crossed. Perhaps the Clarence Hotel had just needed time to remove the sleaxy, sex-on-premises decor? Nope, it was all still there. It was fascinating to watch the looks on the faces of people who were there for the first time – a kind of bemusement / shock at the decor and particularly the giant spider-web chain that’s still in place and was a trademark of Manacle. I noticed a few people come in, do a spin around the venue a couple of times and leave. I noticed the same thing on the first night.


The spiderweb chain...for a dungeon, not for a fun, welcoming Gay venue

The first night was packed, as opening nights always are. But last night I noticed there was a significant reduction in the number of people attending. As if the word has spread: ‘Caesars ain’t Caesars – it’s just Manacle with a drag show’.

The music, whilst providing an occasional recognisable highlight, was mostly the generic crap that’s played in any Oxford Street venue. So much for chanelling the music style that was a key element of the original Caesars!

4 weeks in pretty much nothing had changed: surly bar staff, a filthy dungeon atmosphere, generic dance/r&b musak and of course, the ATM still isn’t working.

The front bar of the Clarence is completely wasted. On opening night there were a stack of punters and not enough bar staff to serve them. That situation was reversed last night – enough bar staff but not enough punters. No attempt had been made to give the front bar the Caesars ‘vibe’. The TVs were showing Idi Amin’s brutal regime and people having their heads blown off. The TVs in the ‘Manacle’ room were showing advertisements for various products and services including the upcoming ‘Chunky’ Bears night that’s displacing Caesars next Saturday night. The retro TV/movie/pop vision that marked at least one incarnation of Caesars was nowhere to be seen.

It seems to me the problem is this: The owners of the Clarence desperately want their venue to be ‘Manacle’ – a sleazy, leather/fetish/bear venue. It didn’t work as that and they are bitter. They have reluctantly taken on the ‘Caesars’ nights because they were losing money hand over foot. But they’ve no intention of actually becoming an accessible, everyone’s welcome kind of Gay venue.

I was advised last night that the Manacle room decor is staying exactly as it is. I wonder how long it will be before crowds dwindle to a point where someone says ‘well, the Caesars thing didn’t work?’

Are there no Gay venue owners/potential Gay venue owners out there that have a clue? There’s money to be made, big money for someone who gets an inner-west Gay venue right. Money from people who will come from everywhere – from Penrith to Mosman – and many of them the type that wouldn’t visit Oxford Street venues in a pink fit because they’re looking for something different – something with a completely different vibe and no-attitude. Somewhere they feel comfortable and where they feel they actually ‘belong’. They’re not looking for a half-arsed sleazy dungeon at Petersham with crazp musak and petulant bar staff.

So, I’ve officially given up on ‘Caesars’ and am now waiting to see what the brand new Imperial will bring the inner west Gay scene? Salvation or more of the same? I’m naive enough to hope for the former.

And, in the meantime, I’m sending out a desperate shout out to potential Gay venue owners out there: if you want to make a crapload of money, do a ‘Ceasars’ type venue properly and you’ll have people lining up to give you their heard earned money.

But do it half-arsed like The Clarence and you’ll get a short term boost in profits and then fade away.

Oh a P.S. – I should at least acknowledge one positive: Sandy Bottom and her performers for at least giving us a series of daggy drag-shows which definitely do channel that old Caesars vibe. Sandy, if only you could take your knowledge and experience to a venue that is run by people with a brain!



  1. Aren’t you a bit old for the saddle bar!! Anyway how many times did you crack the whip…and did you ride side saddle??

    • James rode side saddle ala The Queen or Lady Di. I rode the saddle the way real men do!

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