A New Cross live music venue reopened as a gastropub last week after facing backlash from local residents.
Following its refurbishment, The Montague Arms reopened as a high-end pub after existing as a local grassroots music venue since the Sixties.
The re-modelling of the pub began in late January this year when old managers Ester van Kempen and Dean McMullen had to let go their eight bar staff after hearing that the pub owner could no longer compete with rising rent prices.
Known by local residents simply as ‘The Monty’, it offered a versatile platform for budding South London talent to establish themselves as artists.
On January 16 it was announced that the pub would be facing imminent closure, with many believing that this was the start of a dramatic descent and the gentrification of independent venues in and around London.
In response to the saddening announcement music fans headed to the venue to watch popular South London musician King Krule, whose career the venue helped to catapult, headline what was to be the Montague’s last live gig. There was a queue for nearly half a mile around the venue to get into the show.
Over 9,000 people signed an online petition for the new owners to keep The Montague Arms as a community hub and music venue, only for it to be reopened this week as an gastropub.
Grace Allen, founder of Grandma promotions and promoter of many shows at the venue, told ELL: “The new owners have been very forward in saying that they will not be having music in the venue and the generic look and service provides little community for locals or artists”
Not only this, but also the interior of the pub has radically changed during the refurbishment. Previously taxidermy birds and an old vintage stage added charm and character to the venue, now the aesthetic is more minimalist with many of these features being replaced with large exotic plants and clean white walls.
Previous manager of the Montague Arms Ester van Kempen told ELL: “By refurbishing the Montague Arms from a grassroots small music venue into another gastro pub we lost an inclusive space for the community of South East London to explore, experiment and give local talent a chance to grow.
“In the last ten years, 35% of small music venues in London closed and numerous venues are barely holding their heads above the water due to an extreme increase of their business rates. This leads to a worrying perspective that London will become a soulless city”.
As well as the 35% of small music venues in the capital closing since 2007, a further eighteen of the 94 remaining grassroots venues are expected to experience financial difficulties in coming years. Not only this, but also music tourism generates 21.5 million in for London’s economy and such venues offer a crucial platform for budding artists, sometimes internationally.
Despite the controversy surrounding the refurbishment of the Montague Arms, new owner and manager of the space James Winney, reiterated that the pub had been up for sale two years previously and faced being turned into flats.
Winney told ELL: “Things are going good so far. Locals really love it, I have been seeing the same faces three times a week, and have been getting to know the locals. People on this street have been excited about the changes. I think it was a bit of a nuisance before and they’ve been on board with what we have been doing.
“In terms of music, we are planning to book things in the future. However, it won’t be punk bands as such more jazz and acoustic sets. There will be some sort of live element, but it won’t be a music venue anymore, more of a community pub – that’s what we plan to do.”
Community spirit and live music are integral to South East London’s identity as a diverse cultural hub, and as rent prices continue to rise, many other independent venues are having to face the possibility of closure.
Whilst many are unhappy with the reopening of the Montague Arms as a gastro pub rather than a music venue, the new owners are aiming to provide a space that it is still community-led and inclusive.