Saturday, June 08, 2024

How the mighty have fallen! The sad decline of the ex-Shannon Hotel

Every day in this late monolopy capitalist hellscape brings fresh horror. It starts to numbs you. 

But as I scrolled thoughtlessly through instagram in a depserate bid to mine some hidden store of dopamine from my social media-wrecked brain, the algorythm produced a reel so blood curdling, I dropped my phone and let out a shriek that startled nearby passengers on the inevitably not-moving Sydney train.

The "Chipo Hotel", the ad proudly declared of the venue on Abercrombie Street in Chippendale, was now Australia's "first 100% fully vegan pub and bistro".

Now I have nothing against vegan options in food and drink. I have nothing against entirely vegan outlets being opened. It is a dietary choice made by many people and should be catered for. 

(I do have an issue with what is actually The Chippendale Hotel giving itself a very presumptuous, overly familiar, "matey" nickname, but that's something every inner-suburban pub does to fake actual public affection and distract from the fact 80% of the pub's floor space and more of its revenue is just pokies.)

No. My blood was chilled because this is hallowed ground.

Long before this was "The Chippo", as they so desperately want to be known, before even that brief unspeakable phase when it was "The Lybrary" and its walls were plastered with fake-book wallpaper, this was The Shannon Hotel.

The symbolism of the decline of human civilisation could not be greater. What is now Australia's first ever 100% vegan pub and bistro was once a dive so great, I wrote my first ever post on this blog 18 years ago in its honour.

Stuck in a then non-glamorous location in Chippendale in inner Sydney (this was before they ethnically cleansed the Redfern Block just up the street), it was a hangover from a brief period in the 90s when Irish pubs were considered a bit trendy. 

The trend ended, leaving Paddy, The Shannon's grey-haired Irish bar manager, to pour beers for what one online reviewer called "drunk losers". 

That critic missed a key point: the very fact it was "filthy" and "a complete dive" meant that the patrons might be drunk losers. but the patrons were few and far between.

In The Shannon, Monday to Sunday, you could have a whole pub almost entirely to yourself. And if you caught a slight whiff of urine from the toilets, that just meant you needed another drink, 

No worries, Paddy would sort you out -- a one-man rebuttal to those who think the "alcoholic Irish" stereotype is unfair, and who remains to this day the only bar manager I have ever seen escorted from his own venue for being too intoxicated. 

And you had to be very intoxicated to be escorted from The Shannon Hotel.

Back then, the place was just up the road from The Resistance Centre, where a bunch of us "radical activists" worked long hours dedicated to building the socialist utopia that the world is today. We did a lot of Palestinian solidartiy campaigning, resolving that conflict once and for all. Transforming the world is thirsty work, The Shannon was close and cheap.

It had entertainment that the "Chippo" will never match. There was a jukebox that Paddy would gladly sling you a bunch of $2 coins from the till to play -- on the unspoken agreement you would always and without fail play "Ordinary Man" by famed Irish folk singer Christy Moore. 

That sad ballad decrying the devastating impact of Thatcherism, told through the eyes of a working-class man chucked out of work, seemed on endless repeat. For a decent chunk of my life, I knew not just every word but ever beat of the song, the despair in Moore's voice as he sung "you stripped me bare!" seared into my soul. 

It had other attractions too.

Wanna play pool? Paddy -- I think he was keen for company -- would chuck you more two buck coins from the till. Once you learned to avoid the cigarette burn pockmarks, you could play a decent game, with most of the balls generally present. 

You could also play darts. 

Very few places these days are willing these days to hand over a half-dozen sharp miniature metal arrows to a bunch of drunks to fling about in yet another example of health and safety gone mad. Not a problem at The Shannon.

Not that Paddy didn't take health and safety seriously.

Once I was there drinking and playing pool with the impish Young Tim (he's older now but he's still Young Tim to me). Having consumed more than the medically recommended daily intake of standard drinks, Young Tim thought it would be a good idea to try to "spear" me by chucking his pool cue half way across the room in my general direction, rather than just taking his fucking shot like I wanted, managing  only to smash his own half-filled schooner, sending glass and beer flying.

When Tim went to the bar, Paddy poured a new beer to replace the spilled one, no charge. 

Then Tim spilled another. And then another. 

Finally, after the fourth beer, a fed-up Paddy shook his head as he poured one more "free of charge" replacement, and said sternly: "Now this is your last one!"

At the end of the night, as Tim staggered towards the door, Paddy thrust a $20 note into his hand to get a taxi home safely. That is a concern for health and safety that I will happily gamble the "Chippo" will never match.

Another time, a bunch of us were there at a table that had those high chairs, and someone poked Emma (who to be fair was already not walking straight when we arrived), causing her to topple off the chair, spilling her gin and tonic.

Paddy rushed straight round from behind the bar, helped her back up into her seat and then returned with a fresh g+t, free of charge.

Now if you've ever seen what a drunk Emma could do when denied a g+t, you would appreciate Paddy's commitment to health and safety of all patrons, and broader society in general,

The Shannon also had it's resident weed dealer, Toothless John. An aging hippy who'd seen better days (he earned that nickname), he would sit in the corner most nights, nursing a beer and doing the crossword. If asked, he'd sell you some really crappy weed, but only in really small deals.

In clearly poor health, surviving mostly on the disability pension, Toothless John taught us how to play the darts games Micky Mouse and Killer. And his weed may have been shit, but he was consistent. You always knew where to find him.

He used to live in a shitty apartmennt not far from The Shannon, struggling with the effort of the stairs as he went to collect what he considered $20 worth of weed scraps. There are no Toothless John's in Chippendale these days.

Even the poor guy's livelihood of selling poor quality weed to supplement the once-sort-of-livable disability pension has been taken by big pharma medicialising recreational cannabis consumption. We no longer get wasted with homemade bucket bongs, instead we pay much higher prices for prescriptions to "treat our conditions".

Ultimately, The Shannon could never survive -- even without the gentrification, giving a bunch of broke alcoholics an endless supply of two buck coins to play Christy Moore songs is not much of a business model.

The decline of The Shannon started long ago. I published an Open Letter on this very blog back in 2008 warning of the inevitable consequences of a bunch of rennovationsthen under way.  This is just the final, inevitable conclusion of a long process.

Are there any Shannons anywhere today? From what I can see, outer-surbuban dives have been replaced as well -- by soulless pokie palaces with a bar attached so they can still call themselves a pub on a technocality.

The scene is bleak. The Shannon Hotel is now 'The Chippo', Australia's first 100% vegan pub and bistro. Jesus fucking wept.

'... I'm just an ordinary man, nothing special, nothing grand'


  1. How the fuck did you remember any of this? Fuck.

    1. The thing is Anonymous (if that really is your name, and to be honest i doubt it) I wrote most of those stories in posts on this blog 15-20 years and I know how to read. There are some other things i remember but did not include as even I have some standards. But there is much much more I have forgotten, no doubt for the best. But I will NEVER forget what Thatcher did to the working class, stripped them bare!