In The Wings of the Firebird: My Love Affair with Canberra’s Phoenix

The Phoenix: yes, that is an old-fashioned
pram hanging from the ceiling.

I’m not really sure what my first memory of The Phoenix is. Over time, they seem to have all meshed together into a joyous, goopy pulp of drunkenness, live music and happy nonsense.

One thing I do know is that from the first moment I walked in, it felt like home: the warm, dusky light; the mixed scent of incense and beer, mingling in the air in a constant battle between sweet and stale; the eclectic collection of characters that flit in and out, from the hardened daytime drunks to the middle-aged would-be rockers, all the way through to jaded public servants and bright eyed uni students.

From whenever it was I first stumbled across the place, The Phoenix has gladly embraced me, to the point where it almost feels like an extension of my own lounge room. I’ve spent enough time there that the bartenders pre-empt my order as soon as step up for a drink. I feel a warm, fuzzy glow every time I see the same old graffiti in the ladies toilets, in chalk or otherwise, and I get a little irked when it is replaced by something that simply isn’t as original or charming. I like that I can pick out faces that I instantly recognise, even if their names are a little hazy: Epic Beard Guy, Magic Rob and Tim the Bartender are just some examples that instantly spring to mind.

I love the fact that I can find a seat and read a book, watch a poetry slam, see a band, join a random trivia group or just have a beer and feel like I am safe and warm and home. You can do something, or you can do nothing; at The Phoenix, you shall only be judged if you decide to make a jerk of yourself.

I am proud to be one of its patrons, to the point where I am quite protective of it: heaven help you should you ever trash talk The Phoenix in my presence, and should it ever face closure for whatever reason, by the powers that be, I will fight tooth and nail to make sure that never happens.

Don’t get me wrong; my experiences haven’t all been completely peachy. There’s been unwanted, lecherous advances from men who are old enough to know far better, broken hearts and forlorn tears, terrible bands and worse novels endured, often with only a Coopers Pale Ale for comfort.

On the other hand, I have made more friends (temporary and more long term), met more interesting people and picked up more blokes under that roof than I have any other building.

The Phoenix holds so many memories for me that when I moved back to Canberra last month, it was one of the first places I went outside of work. Again, the memories are hazy, but I distinctly remember having an urge to hug the beer-stained furniture and to lie on the sticky, concrete floor in an attempt to reassure the dear building that I had no intention of leaving for such an extended period ever again. Call me a drunkard, call me a madwoman, call me whatever you like: home is where the heart is, and a significant part of mine lives on East Row, in a pub full of knick-knacks, so many stories, and so much life.


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