Investigators will attempt to determine the cause of the fire that tore through the Edwards Bar in Newcastle West in the early hours of Thursday, leaving the popular eatery severely damaged.
Neighbour Alex Morris shot footage of the fire from the balcony of her Hunter Street apartment.
Ms Morris said she called the fire brigade about 12.15am to report the blaze.
Smoke billowed hundreds of feet into the night air, with fire trucks arriving at the scene within a few minutes.
“The whole place is full of smoke,” Ms Morris said. “We can smell it.”
Police said two employees locked up just after 11.30pm on Wednesday at the Parry Street premises.
The alarm was raised about 40 minutes later by a member of the public who saw flames, and people were evacuated from nearby buildings.
Police said the building sustained “major structural damage” and investigations were continuing.
At 2am on Thursday nearly a dozen fire trucks were still on the scene, smoke still coming from the roof with the building being doused with water by an aerial fire truck.
The damage was more severe near the Parry Street entrance, as the wall of glass windows on the King Street side of the building remained intact, the garage door still closed. The coloured lights of the adjoining Edwards record store on Parry Street were still twinkling.
The blaze was out by 3.30am, a Fire and Rescue NSW spokesman told the Herald.
He said up to 55 firefighters were called to the scene shortly after midnight.
There were no injuries and the occupants of the premises evacuated themselves before the 12 fire trucks arrived.
The spokesman said firefighters had the fire under control within an hour.
Partial collapses of the ceiling and roof made it difficult for firefighters to enter the property but crews were able to protect the bar’s neighbours from the flames.
A police drone was being used on Thursday morning to survey roof damage and an Ausgrid officer was at the scene looking at the building’s electrics.
The Fire and Rescue NSW spokesman said there was no obvious cause of the blaze. He said the building would need to be assessed by structural engineers.
The Edwards opened early in 2014 and quickly established itself as a popular location for food, music and culture.
The Edwards is partially owned by former Silverchair bassist Chris Joannou, whose family have owned the site for more than two decades.
His sister Louise Kipa told the Herald on Thursday morning that the Edwards crew was “like a big family”.
While she had not yet been allowed inside, she said she had been told damage was “extensive”.
Ms Kipa said “everyone is really broken up” about the incident.
“It’s a big loss not just to us, but to the community,” she said.
It is the second serious fire in the Parry Street area this year after the abandoned former National Park Bowling Club site went up in flames in April.