In Changing Times by Clyde Mooney

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After much speculation, Universal Hotels is tonight opening its tweaked Midnight Shift, launching a three-day party under a new moniker.

The group operated by the Kospetas family acquired the legendary Shift – reputed to have been the first gay bar in the State – in June for around $12 million, following a long negotiation with the long-time previous owners.

It marked their fourth acquisition on the famous strip, following the Oxford Hotel last December, the Brighton Hotel the month prior, and first-up Riversdale’s Kinselas, in May 2017.

Although Universal opted to reverse the ‘all-welcome’ persona of the Oxford, reviving its rainbow embrace and former drag shows, the family held high regard for the Shift’s legacy, and engaged in a broad community survey to garner public opinion on what should be the future of the big 1000-pax pub. They collected over 1000 responses in the first 24 hours, and some insight into the gravity of the institution.

The results found 75 per cent of respondents thought everyone should be welcome, regardless of sexuality or gender.

This has given rise to the venue’s new name, Universal – echoing the group’s philosophy and representing a slight change in direction Jim Kospetas describes as “an evolution of the Midnight Shift, rather than a revolution”.

The long weekend launch party kicks off tonight with a new monthly event, FAB, featuring live performances, drag and DJs. Tickets are sold out.

Tomorrow night will begin the weekly ‘Satori on Saturday’ house party, combining dance choreography and visual projections for what is described as “a platform supporting all forms of creative expression”.

Sunday night will see the new Universal host the ‘Heaps Gay Rendezvous’ official closing party of Sydney Fringe Festival, headlined by South African musician Fortune Shumba, with DJs, live music, pole-dancing and reportedly “roaming art”.

Universal is the latest step in the group’s plan to create a broad and synergistic portfolio in the area, which is finally evolving from the cultural shift brought on by Sydney’s notorious lockout laws.

“Our push is to give each venue a different offering, but also to revitalise the area and bring people back to Oxford Street. It’s such an amazing precinct, so close to the city,” says Kospetas.

“Where previously the world was gay venues or not, now you’ve got to be open to everybody.

“Open it up to what Oxford Street is these days.”