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February 27, 2006 | by  | in Features |
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Goodbye Eastside… It seems we barely knew ye…

As many of us who have whiled away afternoon’s that were originally packed with classes can attest, Eastside was a beautiful place. Jugs were consumed alongside mountains of cigarettes in the smoky squalor of the deck while a few stragglers hung around inside. And now it’s gone… well it’s changed. Say hello to the Mount Street Bar and Café. Salient News editor Nicola Kean takes you through the change to find out that at least intentions were good… and at least it’s not as bad a name as the San Francisco Bathhouse.

Change can be a beautiful thing. Caterpillars metamorphose into butterflies, tadpoles turn into frogs and ugly ducklings emerge as swans. Over summer, Vicky’s and Eastside went through a metamorphosis of their own, and came out of the chrysalis as the Mount Street Bar and Cafe.

But the change is more than merely cosmetic. The carpet is gone, replaced by polished concrete. The funky painted tables are gone, replaced by plain surfaces with pages from Salient’s past glued on. And, most infuriating of all, the mural has been painted over. I loved that mural.

Rainsforth Dix of the Union, the organisation that controls the Student Union Building, says the cafe and bar were in desperate need of a rebranding. “Nobody [I’ve asked] could understand why it was Eastside.” It’s a word that is more related to gang culture in the United States, and furthermore the bar isn’t even on the eastern side of
the building.

“So while it may have been something that the original manager thought would be really cool and trendy”, she continues, “we wanted something that would reflect the actual student environment.” Fair enough, and it does look, well, nice- although I’m not too sure about the polished concrete. Dix reveals that the carpet had to be ripped up because years of beer spills had caused rotting. But “we couldn’t afford to replace it so we polished up the floor.”

Dix’s vision for the Mount Street Bar and Cafe is a place where students can go to relax, hang out, eat and drink. “That’s the primary driver”, she says. The “rarky” events such as gigs have been relocated to the Union Hall. Smoking is no longer allowed on the balcony, although that, Dix says, is to comply with the recent law change banning smoking in bars. Even the pool table has been removed, as one outraged student decried over a jug of beer last week.

It’s a vision that Nick Kelly, President of the Victoria Student’s Association (VUWSA) agrees with, in principle at least. “I think the concept was nice”, he says “but I think the naming thing was a silly idea. I don’t think they’ve consulted with students at all.” In fact one could go so far as to say that renaming Eastside and Vicky’s the Mount Street Bar and Cafe is the worst re-branding exercise since Indigo became the San Fransisco Bathhouse.

“Names are always a hard part”, says Dix. ”We didn’t want it to be politically inspired, because it’s not about politics in that part of the building.” Mount Street Bar and Cafe is just about as apolitical as you can get. “We came up with Mount Street because the building is on Mount Street, there’s a huge amount of history of student activity with the Mount Street cemetery.” Obviously there is some confusion about the exact nature of what goes on in the cemetery, especially
after nightfall.

“It’s just named after a street”, Kelly says with indignation. Word on the street is, he continues, that a caretaker came up with the idea during a Union staff meeting. “They could have had a competition or something like that. It would have been much better”, Kelly says, frustrated with the lack of creativity. Although Dix argues that VUWSA was consulted throughout the process, both Kelly and former President Jeremy Greenbrook say they were simply informed of the changes. “We got told it was going to happen”, says Greenbrook. “That was it.”

In fact for the average student, there was virtually nil input or consultation on the changes. There were no focus groups, but Dix says it was partially based on a survey carried out a couple of years ago. I remember that survey. I was in first year when I filled it out. Like the disappearance of the pharmacy last summer, the changes were made sneakily over the holidays, when there were few students around.

It seems to be symbolic of the continuing dispute over the ownership of the Student Union Building. Originally built with student money by VUWSA, it was taken over by the Union, a branch of the University, after VUWSA got itself into financial trouble a couple of years back. Since then there has been a gradual corporatisation of the building. Services important to students, such as the pharmacy and Student Job Search have, literally, left the building. “Obviously they’re not consulting with students and as a result this building is getting less and less people in it because it’s not being managed well,” says Kelly.

It’s unfair to lambast the Union for the changes to Eastside and Vicky’s. Their intentions were good, and there are obvious improvements. As Kelly says, “overall there is good happening, [but] it’s just a shame that once again an opportunity to get student input has been lost.” So, is Mount Street Bar and Cafe a beautiful butterfly or Kafkaesque nightmare? We’re about to find out.

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About the Author ()

Nicola Kean: feature writer, philanthropist, womanly woman. Nicola is the smallest member of the Salient team, but eats really large pieces of lasagne. Favourites include 80s music, the scent of fresh pine needles and long walks on the beach.

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