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The Smith’s Alternative- Q&A

The Smith’s Alternative has been a Canberra meeting spot since 1976. Known for its intellectually rebellious nature, the café gained a reputation for finding books that were banned from mainstream book stores.  The Smith’s Alternative is a casual, hipster café that offers the Canberra community an inviting lounge room away from home where you can take the time to grab coffee and a book from the store’s selection and just take a break.

By night however, the Smith’s Alternative transforms into an intimate yet playful space with a variety of performances held almost every night of the week. I spoke to Beth Tully, Co-Owner of the Smith’s Alternative.


What was the Smith’s Alternative before you took over?

So, prior to my Partner and I taking over Smith’s, it was owned by some other people who we were already working with.  Umm so Nigel and I have been involved with the Canberra Musicians Club (CMC) for many years, we started that in 2007 and Nigel was organizing all the gigs here (Smith’s Alternative) every Wednesday nights here.  We worked quiet closely with the previous owners.

What made you decide to by the Smith’s Alternative?

Smith’s unfortunately closed and for awhile there it was under liquidation and you could make an offer for it. And we really just didn’t want it to close, we knew it could become a nice part of Canberra that could host a lot of music and build a lot of community so when realized no one was going to make an offer for it, we made an offer and it was accepted!

What kind of clientele do you receive?

It’s a really mixed bag and that’s what we really love about it. I love coming here and there are families with young kids and students and people in suits and you know, all ages, all; backgrounds. It’s really great.

How would you describe the Smith’s Alternative?

I hope people find it a comfortable place to be and a safe space to be where they can come and enjoy people’s company and enjoy good music or other things like theatre or comedy we’re putting on. But a people and can meet or you can come by yourself and form some friendships here.

How are the events/shows selected for Smith’s Alternative?

We have some themed nights like Thursdays are jazz nights but most other evenings are fairly open to suggestion. Mondays are poetry, but in general, because Nigel and I have been running events for a long time in Canberra so people are already contacting us for spaces to hold their shows. So now Smith’s has become another spot we can make available to them.

What kind of shows do you usually book?

Everything that’s not too loud!

I mean we’ve had punk gigs here.  It’s a small venue so you have to sort of conscious of that the audience is right next to the stage and you can’t blast it but there’s lots of different styles of music happening.

Why is this place important to you?

Hmm I guess…. I just find it a nice community space. I like that people feel like it’s their lounge room, they can come here and feel like they belong and that’s makes me feel really happy.  When I see people coming back and seeing people having a nap on the lounges, That makes me feel really happy just to have people be comfortable.

What is that ‘THING’ that makes the Smith’s Alternative Special/ different?

It’s just that! It basically looks like our back deck; it’s just a big lounge room. I think it looks beautiful, I think we provide good service for most things. We don’t take ourselves too seriously but we want to do everything well. We’re all still learning and figuring out what we are… yeah.

Nigel, Co-owner and Partner of Beth Tully, has been the face of Smith’s Alternative in the media.  Beth prefers the behind the scene position…What is your role as co-owner?

Nigel does all the bookings for the events. He’s doing all the Facebook event pages which is probably why you see his face all the time. I do all the background stuff, so I work here [Smith’s] behind the bar on Thursdays, Saturdays, Sunday, Mondays.  And we still have other stuff going on so I still run the CMC gigs and updating websites and doing mail-outs. There’s lots of other administrative stuff going on behind the scenes… I prefer to stay in the background. 

Are there any upcoming changes that we should be looking ?

Ummm, nothing major I don’t think. Most of the changes that are coming up will be incremental, just little fixes all the time. There are lots of great gigs coming up but no major changes.

By Adongwot Manyoul

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