Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. We pay tribute to some of the legendary Melbourne live music venues of the past.
Yet, the live music landscape has changed a lot over the years, in volume, breadth and personnel. In 2015, a PhD was developed by Dr Sarah Taylor that explored the changing nature of live music in Melbourne and Sydney. It produced a number of intriguing findings.
Namely, it was found that the Melbourne music bubble has become more concentrated – gigs are happening more centrally with less shows going down in exterior suburbs. In yesteryear, less bands would play more gigs, often playing more than one gig in a night and travelling across town to do so.
Today, there are more performers and more gigs as a result. Many iconic live music venues have shut down across the years as well, while some have closed and reopened and others have survived the test of time.
To celebrate the live music institutions that proved critical to Melbourne’s live music community over the last 30 years, we’ve put together a list of the most notable names. Any of these jog your memory?
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The Palace Theatre deserves its spot at the top of the list and it’s still devastating that this venue isn’t with us today. It initially opened in April 1912 and served a number of different purposes – as a cinema, a theatre for musicals, a nightclub and a live music venue that hosted the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys, The Black Keys and George Clinton across its tenure.
Despite great resistance from the Melbourne music community, the venue closed in 2014 after being bought by a Chinese developer in late 2012. Continued outcry lasted until 2016 and appeals were taken to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), but they were to no avail. Internal demolition of the site commenced in February 2020.
The Reverence Hotel was the definition of iconic, serving the Melbourne live music community since it took over from the former Exchange Hotel in 2012. It welcomed some of the biggest names in punk rock and heavy music, such as Jeff Rosenstock, Foxing, Teenage Bottlerocket and AJJ. Locally, the space was home for music talents such as The Smith Street Band (the band’s drummer Matt Bodiam was its owner), Luca Brasi, Camp Cope, The Bennies and many more.
The Rev officially closed its doors in March 2019.
The Punters Club
A beloved live music haunt of Fitzroy for decades, The Punters Club was located where Bimbo is situated today. It drew talents of both international and local acclaim while maintaining a rugged, approachable aesthetic that would sometimes see punters sitting on the floor during gigs.
The venue was influential in launching bands such as Spiderbait, Magic Dirt, Frente! and You Am I, but closed down in February 2002.
The Brunswick Hotel
The Brunswick Hotel sat on the corner of Sydney Road and Weston Street in Brunswick and was a beloved live music haven from 2009 to 2019. The story surrounding its closure is devastating – the venue initially shut in March 2018 after “some genius fresh out of driving school took it upon himself run over the fire hydrant in front of the venue, causing a deluge of water to pour directly into our beloved pub”. Tragically, the venue never opened again.
Ding Dong Lounge
Ding Dong was a go-to CBD destination for live music and stood tall for the better part of 15 years. It was also a fantastic place for a late-night boogie with DJs slinging tracks late on both Friday and Saturday night. Across its tenure, Ding Dong welcomed the likes of The White Stripes, Leonard Cohen and Ed Sheeran into its bandroom. It would eventually close in January 2018.
The Continental Cafe
From 1993 to 2001, The Continental Cafe was a keystone of Melbourne’s live music scene and sat on Greville Street in Prahran just up the street from Greville Records. The venue was lovingly referred to as “The Conti” and proved itself as quite the cultural chameleon, hosting live music gigs courtesy of names such as Paul Kelly, Archie Roach, Vika and Linda Bull and Deborah Conway, while also presenting comedy shows and exhibitions.
Where Cherry Bar is today was Boney before that and prior to that, Pony was resident of the longstanding Little Collins Street spot. Pony closed its doors in 2013 after servicing after-hours revelry for over a decade. Things got messy here and people absolutely loved it but rising rent prices forced the venue to change hands.
The Greyhound Hotel was a linchpin of a buzzing St Kilda live music scene for a decade during the late ’90s and early 2000s. The Greyhound became beloved musician Fred Negro’s second home, helping him to elevate his career but after transitioning to become a gay bar in 2007, it was demolished in 2017 to make way for high rise apartments.
The CBD-residing Shebeen was different to any other venue in Melbourne – it was driven by a charitable cause with 100 per cent of the venue’s profits going towards people in developing countries. It was then tragic to learn that Shebeen would close in 2016 as a result of noise complaints stemming from their irritable neighbours, the Melbourne East Police Station.
Today, you will know The Empress as a popular pub on Nicholson Street, however, the venue has lived more than one life – it was once a boisterous live music haunt owned by Sandra Eunson. The Empress rose during the 1980s and fought off the incessant nag of gentrification to last until 2013. At one time, the venue spent up to $40,000 in renovations to ensure it remained soundproof and curbed ongoing sound complaints.
The Arthouse was legendary. From 1991 to 2011, the venue enjoyed a monumental tenure – one that was defined by diversity and multiplicity. When we spoke to the venue’s owner, Mel Bodiam, around the time The Arthouse closed, she lauded the inclusiveness of the venue.
“I think the biggest thing is that everyone has their own stories, and that The Arthouse really belonged to everyone, no matter what scene, or what genre of music you liked,” Bodiam said.
The Arty could’ve played host to a metal night one evening, a punk show the next and then a rockabilly gig on night three. That was the vibe at this beloved venue.
East Brunswick Club
Where the East Brunswick Hotel sits today lied a predecessor that stood tall within the Melbourne music scene during the early 2000s. The East Brunswick Club as it was called, welcomed bands such as The Temper Trap, The Drones and Jet into its space but closed its doors in 2012 when the venue’s owners Pete and Pam Benjamin retired.
Central Club Hotel
Richmond’s Central Club Hotel captured the imagination of inner-city live music lovers for years. This venue was the perfect spot to catch a cheap gig in a small, intimate bandroom but Central Club still pulled some big names, including the likes of INXS, Men At Work and BB King.
Duke of Windsor
What’s now Lucky Coq used to be the beloved southside live music haunt, Duke of Windsor. The venue stood as a crucial platform for rock’n’rollers Jet and held a special place in the hearts of music lovers all across the city.
Rob Roy Hotel
The Workers Club was once The Rob Roy Hotel before it became what it is today. This much-loved Fitzroy venue solidified itself as a hotspot for cheap gigs and greeted the likes of Lou Barlow (ex-Dinosaur Jr.), revered Aussie rockers Love of Diagrams, and US singer-songwriter Richard Buckner under the Rob Roy guise.
The Liberty Social
The Liberty Social was another popular inner-city live music hotspot during the early 2000s. Before it closed up in 2015, the venue played host to bands of both local and international acclaim while also kickstarting the party with a slew of DJs. Outside of that, The Liberty Social was a dive bar that provided a platform for many late-night drinking sessions.
Special mentions (40 years+)
St Kilda’s Crystal Ballroom, on Fitzroy Street as part of the old Seaview Hotel, epitomised Melbourne’s punk scene in the late 70s and 80s. It famously broke ground for Nick Cave’s The Birthday Party, as well as hosting the likes of Dead Can Dance and Crime and the City Solution. The national and international acts who played there speak to the venue’s significance; Iggy Pop, INXS, The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen and way too many more to mention. If you’re up for some nostalgia, check out the classic film Dogs In Space – it plays a big background role.
The Old Greek Theatre
What started as The National Theatre came to be known as the Old Greek, as starting in the 60s it became a hub of Melbourne’s burgeoning Greek community. However, in the 80s things really took off, and it begun to host legendary bands like TISM, the Saints, the Pogues, Cramps and the Cosmic Psychos.
Keen on another light read? Check out our piece on the 23 things we’ve all done on a night out in Melbourne.