Every city has a corner pocket that’s considered cool. Identifying such a spot is not unlike weighing up the differences between David Bowie and Lyle Lovett. It isn’t hard to choose.
Sydney’s answer to a groovy suburb is Newtown, while Canberra’s is the formerly industrial inner-city suburb of Braddon. In the Illawarra, it could be argued that place is Port Kembla.
The beachside suburb south of the centre of Wollongong features a unique amalgam of rugged coastline and old-world heavy industry. Port Kembla boomed in the 1920s but declined after that and gained a reputation as a place where women didn’t feel safe. But all that’s changed and, in recent years, Port Kembla has acquired a new status.
It attracts young go-getters and entrepreneurial types who brew beer, launch music festivals and restore old buildings to their former mid-century glory.
At the top of the main strip, on Wentworth Street, The Servo Food Truck Bar is an endeavour that does all these things. Well, kind of.
The former disused service station that dates back to the 1950s has morphed into a live music and performance venue that also sells beer. But it doesn’t brew it.
“There’s a limit to what you can do,” says general manager James Spink with a laugh. “But our bar is committed to sourcing local products wherever possible. We stock beer from local brewers such Coal Coast Brewing, Illawarra Brewing Company, Darkes Cider and such.”
But The Servo, as it’s now called, offers much more than a list of beverages. It’s an ever-evolving multidisciplinary space that embraces artistic pursuits such as live theatre, lighting design installations and art exhibitions.
“We’ve come a long way from those early days in 2018 when a group of local creatives came up with the idea to launch a space for the community that showcased art and music,” says Spink.
“Showcasing new, emerging and established performers and artists from across the Illawarra is something we’ve always done and will continue to do.
“But our reputation has grown and now bigger names on the national touring circuit are reaching out. Murray Cooke’s Soul Movers played here a few weeks back and Regurgitator also played here, which was pretty mind-blowing.”
This unique venue that blurs the boundaries between genres also offers workshops with a focus on zero waste, renewable resources and permaculture. Additionally, it implements the ideals that it espouses. The original internal shopfront now features a stage, sitting area and bar constructed from recycled materials, while the original awning in the forecourt is permanently festooned with lights.
Spink adds: “I cut my teeth at venues like the Oxford Art Factory in Sydney and festivals like Yours and Owls. My intention is to bring that vibe here, to engage the community, open their eyes to new and interesting ideas. I’m constantly devising new concepts and talking to artists about potential performances. But it’s also great to see that we’ve successfully recycled this cool old service station and turned it into something that everyone can use.”