One of Brisbane’s most distinctive heritage buildings was set to begin its new life as a culture and arts hub last weekend. With the latest COVID scare, the Princess Theatre settled for a warmup.

Steered by live music veterans Dave and Steve Sleswick and positioned to become the Southside’s sister venue to Brisbane staple the Tivoli, the Princess features four bars, a café and eatery, and a marvellously appointed live theatre space accommodating 920 standing and 520 seated patrons.

The revamped theatre will fill a gap in South Brisbane’s vibrant hospitality district by providing a larger scale music venue, joining the ranks of other midsize locations such as the Triffid and the Tivoli in cementing Brisbane’s status as a homegrown music Mecca.

The Princess is forging a unique path by sticking to its historical roots; across the building’s 133-year life, it has functioned as everything from a clothing store to a skating rink. Its flexibility is maintained in this new iteration, providing a space not only for live music, but also cabaret, comedy, and the arts. Versatility is the name of the game here; the café Fables (nicely positioned for a morning coffee) serves just as well as an evening bar, and the live room will doubtless play host to a wide range of musical and theatrical treats.

The Princess’s spaces invoke Brisbane’s quintessential style, preserving the historical soul of the building and complementing it with sleek bars and artistic appointments. The centrepiece live room, with its soaring ceiling and layered seating, provokes a feeling of airy intimacy perfectly suited to the concerts and productions for which it is intended. The experience is rounded out by the staff, skilled at their work and relentlessly friendly despite the devastating restrictions placed on their nascent business.

The story of the Princess is also the story of South Brisbane’s burgeoning hospitality scene. With the Cross River Rail nearing completion, the Gabba stadium just down the road, and the 2032 Olympic Games on the horizon, the area can likely expect a meteoric rise in popularity. In the age of COVID, the industry sorely needs it.

The Princess Theatre’s opening weekend was intended to fully showcase its potential as an arts space, featuring an inaugural show by Brisbane duo COLLAR on Friday night, and a music- and art-heavy open house across Saturday and Sunday. However, once again COVID had other ideas, and the predictably one-sided restrictions placed on hospitality scuttled these plans.

Throughout the pandemic, the state government has shown a heartless disregard for one of Brisbane’s most vital industries, and this time was no different. As tens of thousands of NRL fans packed into Suncorp Stadium for the Grand Final, the Princess Theatre made do with vastly lowered capacity numbers and seating requirements, forcing them to postpone their opening weekend bash and cobble together a last minute “Warmup”.

Despite these circumstances, there is little doubt that the Princess is something special. Even with reduced numbers and a slimmed down program, the venue hosted a slick evening of drinks and music. The Princess lived up to its potential; it will be wonderful to see it in full swing.