The word on the street is that the owner(s) of the Newtown Social Club cafe are unhappy with the owner(s) of the newly renamed and reopened Rob Roy hotel Newtown Workers Club pub. I can understand why the similarity between the names could cause confusion to unfamiliar customers, and why the cafe could be annoyed at having its innovative use of Fitzroy’s early historical name copied, but I don’t think it will cause any loss of business for the cafe, which is established and much loved by its loyal customers.
The staff at Newtown SC are friendly and their coffee is fabulous (they’re equal with Min Lokal in making the best coffee in Fitzroy in my opinion). Positive reviews are provided by Flagrant Food Fawning, Where’s the beef? and Flickr user Science (who ranks Newtown SC ahead of Rosamond, Atomica and Mario’s). That’s praise enough, but there’s more: Ryan is a repeat customer and he’s appropriately fussy.
The cafe is open during the day, and the pub is open from 4pm into the night. They offer different products in different environments and don’t really compete for clients. Many locals will probably be regulars at both. People will drink coffee for breakfast and while talking a break from daytime weekend shopping. They will drink beer at night when seeing a band.
It may actually be a poor marketing choice on the part of the pub to use a name so similar to another established business on the same street. And it may not matter that much as, with many other changes in ownership and name, the old name will continue to be used for years to come due to its familiarity. ‘See you at the Rob Roy’ will continue to be spoken on the streets of Fitzroy.
Naming a business is evidently a difficult thing to do. How do you define the emotions that drive people to visit an entertainment venue in a word or phrase? One recent example demonstrates this: The Johnston on Johnston St was known as the Graffitti Club for a few weeks before changing its name. At the time I thought the (deliberate?) misspelling was a clever way to brand the venue and be found easily by Google, but in hindsight it may have simply been an error. It will be interesting to see whether the Newtown Workers Club name works.
Update 27 February 2009: I published this story quickly because it seemed so newsworthy and current, but I had not finished gathering content and information for the story. Author Sophie Cunningham has kindly given me permission to use a copy of her photo of Newtown Social Club owner Cate Della Bosca. Sophie in turn gained Cate’s approval to use the photo, and in so doing Cate let me know that the pub’s owners may be considering a change of name. It sounds like Cate will have every reason so smile when this situation is resolved.