Broadway Theatre/Jonathan’s Disco/Phoenician Club/Breadtop – Ultimo, NSW

These days, this building on the corner of Mountain Street and Broadway, Ultimo, houses a convenience store, apartments, and our old friend Breadtop, but the inconspicuous facade hides a colourful and tempestuous history.

The Broadway Theatre. Image courtesy Sydney Cinema Flashbacks.

Built in 1911, the building started life as the Broadway Theatre, a cinema. With the advent of TV, this was one of many suburban cinemas that had fallen by the wayside by 1960, when it closed. In 1968, it was acquired by nightclub owner John Spooner and converted into Jonathan’s Disco, where it became well known as one of Sydney’s prime live music venues. Sherbet and Fraternity both got their big break at Jonathan’s, playing residencies involving six hour days for months on end. Imagine the poor disco staff having to listen to six hours of Sherbet a day for months. Perks of the job…

Jonathan’s Disco, post-fire, 1972. Image courtesy City of Sydney Archives.

In May 1972, Jonathan’s Disco was gutted by fire. I can’t help but think it was one of those beleaguered staff members. “HowZAT?” they’d’ve quipped as they flicked their cigarette into the freshly-poured puddle of gasoline. The damage was extensive, and required a complete internal refit before it was opened again in 1976 as a ballroom dancing studio.

Jonathan’s Disco interior, post-fire, 1972. Image courtesy City of Sydney Archives.

The Sydney City Council granted the Maltese community use of the premises as a licensed venue in 1980, when it became the Phoenician Club. Once more, the site became one of Sydney’s most popular live music venues with local bands such as Powderfinger and Ratcat playing gigs there throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Nirvana played their first Sydney show there in 1992 – a far cry from Sherbet. Around this time, the rave scene exploded in Sydney; a development that would lead to the end of the Phoenician Club.

The Phoenician Club, mid-1980s. Image courtesy City of Sydney Archives.

Anna Wood, a 15yo schoolgirl from Belrose, attended an ‘Apache’ dance party at the Phoenician in October 1995, where she took ecstasy. Her resulting death shocked Sydney and enraged then-NSW Premier Bob Carr, who declared war on the Club. A series of fines and restrictions imposed on live venues in the wake of Wood’s death led to the closure of the Club in 1998 and the decline of Sydney’s live music scene which continues today. Good thing Wood wasn’t killed by a pokie machine.

The derelict Phoenician Club, 2000. Image courtesy City of Sydney Archives.

From 1998 the site sat derelict, just in time for the Olympics. Nothing international visitors like seeing more than abandoned, graffiti-tagged buildings. In 2001 it was completely redeveloped internally, and today satisfies Carr’s idea of a venue put to good use.

6 responses

  1. Loved hearing about the many incarnations of this classic . Great humour ,well written piece !

  2. Nicely written but no more quips about Sherbet please. They were my teenage heart throbs 🙂

  3. I believe Fraternity had the residency when Johnathons was burnt down…. Spooner had a few other ventures that went the same way… It took a while for him to get the message that competition wasn’t appreciated in that part of Sydney back then. Fraternity apparently weren’t insured and it pretty much heralded the end of that band. The singer, Bon Scott eventually replaced Dave Evans in “Georges kid brothers’ band”… Word is that John Spooner had to be given a more personal message… Someone told me he went to NZ to breed racehorses… but there were many late night after gig raves in Kings Cross nightspots and this was one of them…. so many urban myths, so many jazz cigarettes…. could all be bullshit. For a while though Johnathon’s was a great place to hang after the gig and listen to Miles, Jimi etc over the PA and drink staffies then stumble out grinning like an idiot into the morning peak hour.
    Sherbet were a different act back then and tight enough to shut the wannabe hipsters up. They were long gone when the stinky stuff hit the rotating blades.

    1. Fraternity was not the resident band back then. It was an 11 piece band called ‘Hunger’ put together by John Spooner. 2 of the members were Michael Carlos and Richard Lockwood from Tully after Hair finished. I was in the band playing Hammond organ (lost in the fire!) with Bobbi Marchini (vocalist), Harry Brus (Bass) Bon Scott, Shauna Jensen and more great talents. We played alternatively with Sherbet 6 nights a week until 3 am…! John Spooner was always quite sick and died in the 80s. (he didn’t go to NZ to breed racehorses!) We all believed it was the competition discos who arranged the fire…but who knows? I still wonder after all these years after seeing the results of that fire with all the chairs and tables stacked up like bonfires…along with the charred remains of my beautiful Hammond!! Cheers Julie

  4. I am pleased to note that you got your facts right regarding John Spooner acquiring Jonathan’s. Other sights incorrectly mention John Sinclair as being owner. This is incorrect. In fact John Sinclair was friendly with John Spooner and used to frequent Jonathan’s you until John Spooner eventually barred him for threatening behaviour to a member of staff. John Spooner was responsible for giving many musicians a break. If it wasn’t for him Sherbet never would have become as popular as they did. Sure he used to choose the songs they sang and was responsible for making the band rehearse six hours a day until he was happy with the sound … they made it because he gave them and others a work ethic.

  5. The Maltese community danced old-style rock and roll where couples dance together and so the Phoenician Club’s capacious dance floor was busy on a Saturday night during the eighties and nineties featuring all the top line Rock and Roll and Rockabilly bands and the best dancers.
    Bands like the Eddies, Juke Box Jive, The Cadillacs, The Memphis Outlaws, Buddy and the Birddogs, Rockin Rebels, The Fifties, The Echoes, The Rockin Redbacks, The Bandits and the Barstuds had 70 couples on the floor. Everybody got pretty warm and it was common to bring a change of shirt.
    The Maltese still have dances with live bands at the Hamrun Club in Marsden Park.

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