The Imperial Erskineville

Jackie McMillan
4th Oct 2023

The relaunch of The Imperial Erskineville revamped main bar hit me right in the feels. With three stages spread across the expanded space, the updated main bar was rammed with queer celebrities, from Mitch Edwards and Mark McKie (The Block and Location, Location, Location Australia) to drag king icon, Sexy Galexy, bedazzling audiences for the last thirty years. Queer business owners, like Lawrence Gibbons, publisher of Star Observer, rubbed shoulders with community icons, like glamazon Dykes on Bikes Secretary 2018—2023, Kendal Walton. Guests were kept cheering by a showcase of the venue’s current productions, including their new Saturday night show, The Priscilla Experience, put together by drag performer and hotel’s curator of entertainment, Etcetera Etcetera. While the costumes, staging and wigs have seen a contemporary update, there’s still a strong through-line to the 1994 film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which launched the venue into the mainstream eye (it had been home to drag shows since 1983).  

The Imperial is now part of the Universal Hotels Group stable, which includes Universal, Newtown Hotel, and Oxford Hotel. Here there’s clear emphasis on providing a quality, inclusive space for the whole queer alphabet and friends. Standout moments from the night included the sassy confidence of sultry plus-sized bar dancer, Mama Medusa, and the rousing Welcome to Country from Nana Miss Koori, who implored us all to #voteyes23 because “if it doesn’t happen now, it never will.” Battling five weeks of shingles, Nana Miss Koori used the platform to remind us that “black, white or brindle, homelessness doesn’t discriminate”. 

The Kospetas family behind Universal Hotels know how to put together a solid food offering. With good memories of 1821 in Sydney’s CBD, I was unsurprised to find a cracking lamb rump ($34) with Dutch carrots, roasted baby onions, soubise and jus on the updated Drag & Dine menu. It ate better than the roasted cauliflower ($26) with chickpeas, pomegranate arils, mint, coconut and tahini yoghurt, but here inclusivity means vegan mains too. Garlic and rosemary spuds ($9) made great use of fluffy Dutch cream potatoes; and, with sesame rice crackers flying as proudly as the shoe on top of the Priscilla bus, the vegan grain salad ($21) built around quinoa and brown rice ate better than it sounded. Balance out the worthiness with a bowl of cheesy polenta and pecorino potato gems ($14). Those who believe inclusivity should extend to four-legged friends will no doubt like that the main bar is dog-friendly. Dining specials on Wednesday and Thursday nights will help to make The Imperial affordable for the whole community as well.