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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.