How three sisters kept London’s best dive bar afloat during the pandemic

The East London rock venue have teamed up with Dr. Martens and X-Girl – the pioneering label founded by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth – on the two brands’ capsule collection.

For those not in the know, you’d be forgiven for walking straight past Blondies – the much-loved rock n’ roll dive bar in East London. Sandwiched between a bookmaker on one side and a taxi company on the other, on first appearance it looks less like a venue and more a very clever use of space. As the sisters who run the bar put it: It’s basically a small alleyway with a roof slapped on the top.”

That might be. But what Blondies lacks in floorspace, it makes up for in reputation. Owned, and in large-part built, by Australian sisters Verity and Sharmaine Cox, the bar has become an epicentre for London’s rock community. With its black walls and 50 person capacity, it has provided a more-than intimate setting for some of the biggest names in heavy guitar music: from Mastodon to Machine Head. It’s tiny but lively,” the Cox sisters tell us. We have live shows where bands play in the doorway, so you’ve got to get down early to avoid walking through the stage’.”

For the sisters, the bar is a labour of love. We always joked about opening our own place or starting a band,” they explain. We’re glad it ended up this way!” While they might not be making music together per se, their tight-knit operation has the perfect balance of complementary skills you’d expect from any great outfit. Verity is operations manager, Sharmaine is in charge of the big picture stuff (decor and events), and their third sister, Rochelle, also pitches in, creating images for merchandise and beer lines. Siblings have their way of working together,” the sisters explain, but we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for each other. That’s so important to remember.”

No period has been more testing for the Blondies family than the past 18 months. Along with every bar, restaurant and live music venue in the UK, the pandemic, and ensuing lockdowns hit the bar like a freight train. It was a shock that threatened Blondies’ future and left the Cox sisters reeling. We were worried like everyone else. No one in our generation has experienced anything like it. It felt like we were living in an apocalypse.”

At some point though, doomsaying had to give way to organising, and Blondies were lucky to have the dedication of the community of music fans who had come to see the bar as a pokey home-from-home. We had huge support from everyone so that kept morale high,” the sisters say. Encouraged by Kerrang! Magazine – longtime supporters of the bar – the sisters launched a Crowdfunder to help rescue Blondies from oblivion. It was a roaring success, giving the independent venue the security it needed to see the pandemic through thanks to an army of supporters. It was so nice seeing everyone pitch in. We were so thankful.”

With light finally glimmering at the end of the coronavirus-shaped tunnel, the sisters have been able to turn their attention to the future. An inside wall has been removed to expand the floorspace, and while moshpits are off the menu, the bar has been serving an array of vegan fast food in the meantime. Perhaps most excitingly for the Cox sisters, they’ve been invited to model Dr. Martens and X‑Girl – the pioneering label founded by Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth – on the two brands’ capsule collection. Kim Gordon is a God,” the sisters reply when asked about the team-up. Sonic Youth are one of those bands that inspired so many people, and having a woman play such a huge part in that is incredible. She is an inspiration for us and we couldn’t be more excited to be part of this project.”

Community, as we’ve learned over the past 18 months, is everything. As Blondies looks forward to reopening fully, the Cox sisters are eager to reconnect with their extended family: the punters and moshpit aficionados who have helped keep the venue going, through thick and thin. Likewise, the Blondies community can’t wait to return to the bar that means so much to them. Inclusion and safe spaces are so important in every community,” the Cox sisters remind us. Love and respect goes a long way.”

Dr. Martens x X‑Girl is available this Saturday 12th June at drmartens​.com

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