Another Canberra favourite has closed its doors – for the time being, at least.
Highball Express officially departed the Melbourne Building over the weekend, celebrating its “last hurrah” with staff and patrons.
However, the LaLa Hospitality Group, which owns the Cuban-themed bar and four other Canberra venues, has promised that Highball will return bigger and better than ever at a nearby location sometime soon.
“Thank you to all of our loyal fans. We can’t wait to welcome you to our new home. Stay tuned and follow along to get cheeky updates and behind the scenes looks at the all-new Highball,” read their online statement announcing their departure.
On Christmas Eve, Highball ownership was made aware that they would need to look for a new home after more than six years in the Melbourne Building.
They remain tight-lipped on the specific reasons why negotiations to remain in the Melbourne Building failed.
Highball’s departure follows several other Canberra hospitality businesses that have closed in recent times. Questions have been raised about whether enough has been done throughout the pandemic to protect the local industry.
General manager of the Australian Hotels Association-ACT Branch, Anthony Brierley, argued that the legislative framework put in place in early 2020 and reinstated at the beginning of lockdown in 2021 did all it reasonably could to protect Canberra hospitality.
He pointed to the restrictions on businesses since the start of the pandemic and suggested that any future regression on the recent easing of restrictions would be disastrous.
“Governments want to talk about living with COVID and removing density restrictions gives our industry the ability to live with COVID. This is what was needed for two years,” Mr Brierley said.
“Our industry took the brunt of restrictions and now that they’re gone, we just want to be able to stand on our own two feet again.”
As for how he expects the hospitality industry’s recovery to play out, Mr Brierley said it would rely greatly on the willingness of the Canberra community to go out again.
“I think we just have to see how quickly Canberrans are ready to get out and enjoy hospitality venues again. I think there will be a rapid uptick, but we just have to see that realised,” he said.