MEET: Chris Joannou from The Edwards
Picture a map of Australia, with each city portrayed by its best known musical export. Sydney and Melbourne would be overrun, but head out of the big smoke and things would get interesting. If the Big Prawn could turn it’s beady eyes inland it might lock gaze with the Big Phil Jamieson, and no Sunny Coast road trip would be complete without a stop at the Big Pineapple, 100 clicks north of the Big Robert Forster. And Newcastle, surely, would be repped by an oversized silver chair.
Which is a roundabout way of saying it seems only fitting that ex-Silverchair bassist and Newie ex-pat, Chris Joannou would return and again add to the cultural fabric of his hometown. In 2014 he teamed up with Chris Johnson to convert Joannou’s parents’ drive-through dry cleaners into a buzzing venue. The Edwards tips its hat to its past life, with vintage laundry equipment now repurposed as beer fonts and light shades, as well as a functioning coin-op laundry. Which must make it one of the rare places you can go for a session on the froths and go home cleaner and fresher than you set out. Plus no trip to the Edwards should be complete without a visit to its vinyl shop, run by the legendary Chris Dunn of Waterfront Records.
We’ve been loving what The Edwards have been doing in Newcastle West, and thought it was high time we caught up with Chris Joannou for a chat…
Hey Chris, are you back in Newcastle permanently?
Yeah I moved back to Newcastle to open the Edwards actually. So I was living in Sydney at the time and knew I always wanted to move in to hospitality and open a venue and mum and dad were retiring and their business was in here previously which was the big drive-through dry cleaners. So I was like, ‘Dad I’ve got an awesome idea, you’re gonna love it!’…And now Dad’s the landlord.
Is that really strange for them seeing the business now, knowing what it was?
The space, yeah absolutely, it’s changed so much. I mean the good part about it is, when Dad comes in here now he gets a beer from his old steam presses that he used to stand in front of and work all day long, which we converted into beer taps.
And you also have the light shades as well.
Yeah the big old gas tumblers. I helped Dad basically gut the place when we were closing down the dry cleaners and I was like ‘I’ll keep that’…’I’ll hang on to that’ and we just had miles of stuff and used odd pieces here and there and the rest of it just went to scrap.
So is your Dad much happier standing there getting a refreshing beer?
Well I have roped him back in. Under the Edwards banner we’ve got a coin-op laundry and a full service laundry as well, paying homage to the past use of the space. In the building next to us now there’s a full service laundry that Dad runs.
So you pulled him out of retirement?
He was telling me he’s bored and I was like ‘righto!’
So do many people come in, drop their laundry in, then just go and smash a few beers and pick their laundry up at the end?
The coin-op laundry definitely. The coin-op’s all under the same roof as the bar and you’ll get a nice crew of people coming in and doing their laundry and coffees or beers, depending on what time it is. And the coin-op’s open ’til whatever time the bar’s open until—midnight most nights.
You’re got that solid local focus there. Do you have a personal top five of Newie?Local pub scene - over in Carro (Carrington) where I live there’s a cracker - the Criterion. Or the Orrie - the Oriental Hotel which is just up the road from The Edwards. And then cocktail bars is Koutetsu which is just around the corner on Hunter Street, awesome. Food-wise, seems like there’s more and more options every week. Actually one of the guys that used to work here has an awesome place called Papa’s Bagel. You’ve got everything from Subo which is offering amazing fine dining right through to the Burwood Inn - you’ve just got all bases covered.
Sounds like it’s a supportive community as well?
Yeah even though Newcastle’s a fair size town the industry’s still quite small and everyone knows everyone. We always adopt the approach that it’s better to have peers in your industry than competitors or enemies.
And you’ve just recently -last year- done some renovations?
Yeah out the back here, which used to be just the drive through section. Actually we had the Young Henrys dodgeball tournament out the back here, in the early days. Which, oh my goodness, that was out of control…
Dodgey-ball, it was! We’ve since converted it into a lo-fi version of the Edwards with a beer garden and a cool little backspace offering whether it’s casual Sunday live tunes right through to booking it out even for wedding receptions, all sorts of stuff.
And there’s a vinyl store at the Edwards?
Yeah so Chris Dunn is on board with us here at the Edwards. He’s running our little kinda cultural experience and just doing an awesome job. But his background is Waterfront Records and I first met him -gosh, I would have been maybe 15- when we first signed one of our first record contracts. And I hadn’t seen him for forever and he just popped up in Newcastle and he was working here a couple of mornings a week just as our brekkie chef. And he was always saying he wants to open this kind of place up…[I said] ’Let’s do it here, let’s go!’ It’s awesome, it’s got a great little following and just seems like there’s always a few new people each week discovering it.
You’ve got live music happening as well. Is there any memorable gigs that’s go down in your personal hall of fame?
I worked on Saturday night here and Tim Rossington who plays here quite regularly but last Saturday I don’t know what he was doing but it was extra special, it was awesome.
Are you behind the bar?
I’ll either be on the bar or just floating really. Generally just jump on the bar and pull a few beers and love having a chat.
Do you get some old die-hard fans coming in?
It’s a pretty mixed bunch but there were some guys came through - every now and then you’ll get some travellers, and there were two English guys that were backpacking and they called in and had a beer and said G’day.
What was the first gig you ever went to?
There was also like battle of the bands type stuff here in Newcastle. We’d try and go to whatever gigs we could, I remember going to a Screaming Jets gig, but probably like the first real going to a show would have been You Am I.
And the last gig you went to?
I went to Nick Cave last night actually. It was AWESOME. He was phenomenal.
Where do the wilder stories come from—owning your own bar or old Silverchair tours?
Oooh…wow. See there’s about 40 of us here and you get us all together and they’d definitely give each other a run for their money that’s for sure. Maybe it’s the sheer numbers and volume of people egging each other on that just seems to get it on the same level. It’s amazing what even a small group of people can get themselves into, but put 40 of them together and it’s hard to be able to back to places around here in Newcastle. We just blow our own place up these days.
Have your roped in a few characters from your past who are now working with you?
I’ve had a few mates come and play—like Phil Jamieson and a couple of other guys, which has always been nice. Yeah I still keep in touch with a lot of old friends from the past but being here, it doesn’t leave much room these days.
So, you’re not playing any music at the moment?
No, kinda lounge room and campfires really, that’s about the extent of it.
Have you got a favourite bar from pop culture?
It’d have to be Cocktail.
Are you Bryan Brown or Tom Cruise?
Oh I’d go Bryan Brown. More so their earlier work in the movie.
So we avoided the Desert Island Discs question earlier, what about a last drink if it’s the last night on earth?
Wowser. What do I always seem to go back to? See I’m a massive Cruel Sea fan, bit of Tex Perkins. So I’d probably go and drop a Cruel Sea record on and sit back and have a cold beer.