It’s an Australian icon – a late-night piano bar turned karaoke bar that’s entertained several generations of patrons.
Now it’s for sale, and customers as far back as the 1980s are hoping it will be bought by someone determined to keep alive the proud tradition of music, song and late-night carousing.
The Pickled Possum in Sydney’s Neutral Bay – named after the possums that used to hang over the door frames in the hope of being fed carrots and lettuce leaves by revellers – has become known Australia-wide over the years as the place to go in Sydney after the pubs closed.
“We all loved the possums in the early days, but the only things pickled were the people there,” said Lisa Butler, 53, now living on the Central Coast, who used to attend up to four times a week in the 1980s. “There are so many wonderful memories of people and wine and music and mayhem.
“The piano had a table top over it, so we’d all sit around with our drinks on top and the pianist would play songs from musicals like South Pacific, Chess and Les Miserables, and we’d all sing and dance and fall in love. It was always chock-a-block with people.”
The Pickled Possum business has been owned by John Oseckas and Margurite Smith for 38 years since 1981 – they bought its home, the two-storey building on Military Road in 2002 for $913,000.
Now both 70, they plan to retire, and are selling the business and the 164-square-metre building, with a two-bedroom apartment upstairs, via expressions of interest. Competitive bidding is expected to start around $2 million.
It’s been a hard decision to let it go, says Ms Smith, of the bar that’s entertained celebrities including Janet Jackson, a young Chris Hemsworth, Alan Dale and Jana Wendt.
“We used to love going out to places and sitting around the piano and singing in our younger days, and John, who had a self-service laundry back then, always wanted a bar,” said the former nurse. “Then he bought what was Milo’s Wine Bar, a wine bar and bistro, and it all started from there.
“It was a real culture shock for me, coming from nursing, but we had some great jazz musicians come in and play the piano, and we had lots of actors, artists, writers, sports people, celebrities and singers like Su Cruickshank in. We had crowds pile in always, and it could be hard work.”
One night there’d be $10 steaks, another night was a gay night, there’d be drag events, and a whole multitude of different shows. Turning into a karaoke bar early in the 2000s, most recently it only opens on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings until last orders is signalled by the songs Heroes and American Pie and it closes about 1.30am.
Being sold by Deans Property, most of the inquiries are coming from former patrons who remember it fondly. “The vast majority have been people who’ve been there many times over the years,” said chief executive Robert Deans. “We’ve even heard from a group of people over in New York now who want to get a syndicate together to buy it.
“It does need a little bit of TLC now, but that’s part of the character that appeals to people. It’s still a very good business, and on a Saturday night you see people queuing down the street with the doorman letting them in as soon as others leave.
“It’s a bit of an icon and it’s surprising how many people know it, with so much sentimentality attached to it.”
Kirsten Corin, 52, of Brisbane, was a regular in the early days, while her mum Jennie Heaton, now 83, did shifts as the Sunday pianist.
She says everyone would pile in after nearby pub The Oaks Hotel closed, to be served snake bites – cider with a shot of Stone’s Ginger Wine – and Cinzano Bianco, and sing their hearts out. Some would remember it as the place they lost their virginity afterwards too, she says.
“It was such an institution,” Ms Corin said. “Everyone used to love getting up and doing a song. I remember one past mayor of Mosman would always sing Frank Sinatra’s That Old Black Magic. One night there’d be $10 steaks, I think another night was drag night.
“I remember going back 20 years later and it still had the same photos all around the walls. Back in the ’80s, it used to be a bit of a singles haven for middle-aged people – even though many might have been married.”
Richard Harris, director of nearby business The Kitchen House, recently had an evening at The Pickled Possum, 25 years after he first visited. “It’s now a much younger crowd,” he said. “But the bar itself hasn’t changed much. It was a lot of fun.”
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