VENUE REVIEW: The Word on Smith’s Alternative! – Civic, Canberra, ACT

“Smith’s purpose is to celebrate local culture and provide a safe and comfortable place for it to be developed, presented and appreciated. Open 365 days a year, we aim to have something happening on every one of those days, including music, poetry, comedy, burlesque, theatre, literary events, cabaret, vaudeville, art gallery openings, performance art, dance parties… anything interesting, unusual, entertaining, humorous etc. but not illegal and not degrading to the human spirit.”  (

It’s a five minute walk from the nearest car park to the entry of Smith’s Alternative. It’s not a boring walk either as you pass multiple eating establishments and are walking under the verandah of the Melbourne Building which in itself is interesting architecturally.

Smith’s has an outdoor area which is sometimes utilised for outdoor concerts but on this occasion was just used for drinking and socialising. There are lounge chairs, sitting chairs and pallet furniture in an area approx. 70 sq meters.

On entering there is a bar and food service area on the left and a wall on the right. There is no grease trap so the food is simple and served on disposable plates etc and they cater for vegans, gluten free and general consumption. It’s a bit of a wade through when this area is busy but if you use your manners patrons are most obliging in letting you pass.

Past the bar area the room opens up and then your hit with chequered  lino flooring and at the end a big red door that says Toilets – that clears up that then! In one little corner to the left are some musical instruments and a round table. To the right of the red door is a small kitchen area for staff only and then further to the right another piano complete with music book…I couldn’t resist – I had a tinkle on the ivory keys! This area is used for events as well and can host up to 50 patrons.

Swinging around to face the entry there is a large lounge area which gives off the ambiance that one would expect to find Sidney Poitier type characters in. Walled seating around the perimeter and a hollow center…I was just waiting for a puff from some professors pipe but those seated in the area seemed to be more a stylistic younger set who may just have been engaging in study books.

Between the piano and the lounge area is the Auditorium which holds approx. 100 patrons. It’s set out in eclectic tastings and has a floor level and two raised levels of seating consisting of both lounges and individual chairs. There are shelves in one area that look the part of a library. This are used to be a Newsagent shop which was taken over by Smith’s when the Newsagent left.

This room is where most of the shows take place and it has a stage area approx. 5m x 3m, lighting, PA’s etc and another upright piano in situ. A 4 piece band easily sets up on the stage but I will note that in the shows I have seen here the poor drummer is often obscured not by anyone’s doing but just makes it a more practical fit. Smith’s can provide artists with a sound tech. if required and a door manager as well as some musical equipment.

The sound in the Auditorium is well balanced and visuals of performers unhindered for the most part from no matter where you sit…just the odd punter walking in front of you from time to time to get to their seat. I have enjoyed every show I’ve seen here and even though they’ve been from different genres the Auditorium’s essence changes with it and is not mismatched.

A bonus in my mind is the fact that Smith’s host a multitude of events across any one day in multiple time slots and they have a focus on helping local musicians find an audience in their establishment for little cost…they encourage all sorts of arts and entertainment people to extend themselves into live performance using them as a springboard to test the waters. They have a very active promotion campaign for artists through both FB and their own website and the placement of A3 posters up on the walls of coming events.

Smith’s Alternative is a great venue for both artists and punters equally – they keep on task and deliver a great outcome for such a small venue. It maybe a small venue but it has a big heart and those who run it are right on the spot with how they do things…I’m rating it 9.5/10.



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