Is Merivale the Death of Culture or a Symptom? I Went To Their New ‘Record Bar’ To Find Out.

Merivale’s latest culture costume comes in the form of JAM Record Bar – inspired by the listening bars of Tokyo, but “with a twist”.

Merivale’s latest culture costume comes in the form of JAM Record Bar – inspired by the listening bars of Tokyo, but “with a twist”. The venue promises full-surround-sound and lots of records. Brandon Jack visited on opening night. Here’s what he heard.

6:23pm… The website for the Jam Record Bar – Justin Hemmes and Merivale’s newest baby – gives away little. I’m told to expect pink plywood walls, Japanese inspired snacks and – mentioned twice on the front page of the site and then once again in the FAQs – that the bar houses over 15,000 vinyl records.


6:27pm… Arriving, there are several couples seated out the front. There’s no line to get in, just a few people funnelling through at the same time as me. A very energetic concierge greets me: “Get on up at the bar and get a drink!”

There is not a whole heap of room inside. The venue was accurately described as “little but loud” online. Only one other guy here is wearing a hat, everyone else is groomed in a particular way, satisfying at least two of the following: makeup on face, facial hair trimmed neatly and/or wearing the sorts of clothes that urban professionals wear. 

Note to the reader: I have been commissioned to write a review, and having no experience in the area, it is slowly dawning on me that I do not know how to write one. 

The bartenders are all wearing the same blue lapel blazer that can be worn with either all, none or just the top of the buttons done up. It’s more like the top half of a mechanics jumpsuit than a blazer. They are all also young-ish, maybe mid-twenties to mid-thirties, with a polished, managerial bent to them. 

The song playing over the speakers is best described as “Jazz”. Horns and percussion, the kind of music that you could listen to for an hour without realising it’s the same song or that the song has changed to one slightly different. The whole place looks red, not pink, which I think is the lighting playing tricks on me, and on display are records from the following artists: David Bowie, EAZ-E, NWA and The Velvet Underground. 


Also on display: Photos of the album covers for “Is This It” by the Strokes, the self-titled Ramones album and London Burning. All are the kind of album covers that might appear on Cotton On T shirts… falling firmly in the realm of safe culture – edgy by a stretch, but nothing that draws too much attention.

6:37pm… I’m waiting to have my drink order taken at the bar, which looks like a very swanky Eastern Suburbs open plan kitchen. Like a millionaire with a Tarantino kink decided to turn their living room into whatever Hollywood made us believe the 70s looked like. Mushroom lamps, warm yellow lighting, etc. etc.

The bottles of alcohol on the central island bench look like perfectly positioned props. A photographer is taking a lot of high angle shots of the bartenders as they make drinks. There are a lot of people who kind of look like people who are famous and a woman behind me is running around taking photos for content. Content lady has a blonde bob… and actually lots of people here have blond bobs, including the woman at my 6 o’clock who is wearing a very large oversized suit jacket.

The woman next to me is telling a story about how she saw “the tallest motherfucking guy of her life” when she was with someone called Will.

I feel like all the bartenders are told to smile while they shake the drinks. Like it’s an order. Also, they all have that ability to completely avoid your gaze until they decide it is your turn for a drink.


6:53pm… The drink in my hand (a Togarashi margarita) costs $24.55 and is mostly ice.

I’m kind of nestled by the entrance listening to a mishmash of conversations. There are two big speakers on the wall opposite me but they don’t really add much sonically, the music sounds like the music at any other venue. The concierge explains that it’s all bar service to two women who have just walked in, then tells them to “Get into it”

I’m learning that the concierge has two different ways of saying two different things, the first is to welcome you (“Hey, come on in!”), the second is to get you to the bar (“Get into it!”). 

The crowd’s average age is late twenties to mid-thirties. The people next to me are watching a video of Emma Stone dancing on Instagram. There is a soft serve ice cream machine here which doesn’t really fit the vibe at all. I can also see two deep fryers (though no one around me is eating) and one guy on the other side of the bar has toilet paper wadded up like a tampon up his nose. I really don’t know how to sum up this crowd. I guess it’s like a party where no one knows each other.

6:55pm… A woman who works here tells the concierge “Justin [Hemmes, I assume] called before and said that a few of his friends came through.”

Concierge: “What did he say?”

Woman: “Un-fucking real, you Legends.”


7:00pm… Turns out there are record fanatics in attendance and they are taken over to the DJ decks. I can see them nerding out about all the dials and knobs. The DJ is wearing a long sleeve white shirt under his brown button up and uses an old school corded phone to check his levels. He has to pull it up to his ear like he’s making a call whenever he does so. DJ is also wearing clear rimmed glasses and has the early signs of a receding hairline. He looks like the uncle who would be absolutely enthused to show you his record collection.

A woman carrying a Fillet-o-Fish Spring Roll ($8 each) holds it in front of a photographer who takes a photo. To be honest, I thought there’d be more influencers here or at least more obvious influencing

Outside of the two guys now observing the DJ’s set up, not a single person is looking at any of the 15,000 vinyl. I don’t really know what the appeal of the vinyl is other than how it fills the upper two thirds of all the walls and gives people something to take a photo of. But it’s very Hemmes. 

From looking at old interviews with the designers of previous Merivale spaces, there’s often talk about “over-scaled open hearths found in French bastilles” and “space as a canvas” and “sophisticated rawness” and “spacial sequences.” 

Being in a Justin Hemmes-backed space is to (explicitly and repeatedly) be on a “journey”. 


The front has one appearance, often keeping the “authentic” look and feel of whatever was once there, or appealing to some axiom of local sentiment, but the further back you go, the more you’re likely to see things that would be described as “canvases” and “sophisticated” and “spatial sequences”, i.e: they are the sort of places where a lot of people wearing white linen shirts might congregate.

This is a critical part of “Hemmesification”, the sort of vibe a place has that makes you unsurprised when you learn that a venue is a Hemmes venue. This particular venue is too small for a physical journey. There’s nothing to discover because from where I’m standing I can see it all, but in that shortened space there’s still an appropriation going on and it’s inescapable with all the vinyl on the walls. It’s trying to be something that it can never be. 

7:29pm… It’s too hard to tell where bathrooms are so I go to the pub next door which, frustratingly, has the bathroom very hidden as well.

7:32pm… I think about heading back to Jam Bar but feel like there’s nothing else for me to see, that the nights going to just be the same thing until close and that I’d become increasingly embittered by it. Also, I think I’ve seen enough to write the review. 

8:32pm… I meet my friend Randy who has a plus one at a gig in Surry Hills. The band is a local Sydney act called Johnny Hunter, and the lead singer says this is their farewell. Well, maybe. He says this is the second last gig in Sydney, possibly ever, and they aren’t coming back, and then says, actually, they might come back in six months. Who knows. 


The venue clears out straight after the show, and I’m unsure if people are going to other venues or going home. Earlier, I met a girl who told me she was an erotic masseuse who spent the day booked in for a golden shower. She acts out the whole thing, shaping her body as if she’s standing over someone she describes as an “old man with beady blue eyes” who is “guzzling” her piss.  

Regardless, I’m staring at the empty dance floor after a local band’s farewell show and coming to terms with this being where we are now. It’s all very Sydney. 

In short, here’s the review: Jam is not trend setting, Jam is trend gouging. Vinyl is in. It’s retro. It’s cool. So, let’s jump on board and cosplay as artistic connoisseurs.

It’s all part of the distinct Hemmesification transpiring over the last decade. 

Venue after venue add to the Merivale empire, be it newly crafted or a refashioning of something into a scrubbed up shell of itself that pumps the price and excites that special kind of white-linen gentrification.

Whether Hemmes and his venues are the cause of this cultural decay, or a symptom of it, is uncertain. But they are no doubt firmly a part of it. In a city like this, he seems to resonate.

Brandon Jack is Sydney-based author. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.