‘Don’t know where they’ll go’: Final nail in Sydney’s coffin as Frankie’s shuts down for Metro project

One of the last surviving institutions of Sydney’s once thriving night-life is being forced to close up shop, but the owners won’t be leaving without throwing their most riotous party yet.

Descending into the cavernous underground venue, one might think they were breathing the same air as rock’n’rollers that have graced the stage of Frankie’s Pizza.

The walls are covered inches deep with posters and scribbled expletives, making it hard to believe that the live music institution is only celebrating its 10th birthday on Sunday.

It will also mark the final farewell for a venue that has survived far more than most in the city’s live music scene – taken out only by an order to close down for the NSW government’s new metro project.

Camera IconFrankie’s Pizza is closing on December 11. Russell Shakespeare Credit: News Corp Australia
Camera IconThe venue is closing to make way for a new metro station. NCA NewsWire / Christian Gilles Credit: News Corp Australia

“The day the lockout laws came in coincided with the Soundwave Festival,” co-owner Jordan McDonald said.

Frankie’s had secured itself as the official festival after-party and many long-time patrons still remember it as one of the venue’s most iconic parties.

The new legislation prohibited CBD venues from letting patrons enter a premises after 1.30am.

“I had to turn away lots of sick bands that were heroes of mine and I was thinking, ‘Do I just break this stupid rule and go with my gut’?” Mr McDonald said.

Jordan McDonald co-owns the venue. Picture Instagram.JPG
Camera IconCo-owner Jordan McDonald said a ‘relentless perseverance’ kept Frankies open for this long. Instagram Credit: NCA NewsWire
Camera IconLockout laws introduced in 2014 coincided with the hosting of the Soundwave Festival after-party. NCA NewsWire / Christian Gilles Credit: News Corp Australia
Camera IconMr McDonald recalls the heartbreaking decision to turn away bands he idolised. NCA NewsWire / Christian Gilles Credit: News Corp Australia

“It was pretty gnarly and if you broke any of the rules it was like a $50,000 fine straight up.”

Many big names – The Backroom, Hugos Lounge, Exchange Hotel and Bar Century – never recovered from the introduction of lockout laws in 2014.

A NSW parliamentary inquiry into live music in 2018 found that about 176 licensed venues closed in four years.

When Sydney was plunged into lockdown in March 2020, Mr McDonald said the Frankie’s team were “pulling some mad crazy survival sh*t”.

“It was definitely scary but we decided right at the very start that the very most important thing was to save the venue,” he said.

Camera IconThe management team froze their accounts during lockdown. NCA NewsWire / Christian Gilles Credit: News Corp Australia
Daily Telegraph
Camera IconFrankie’s renowned pizza. Supplied Credit: Supplied
Camera IconMr McDonald recalls taking home potatoes and beer from the kitchen. NCA NewsWire / Christian Gilles Credit: News Corp Australia

“So essentially we locked the accounts so that no money was going out and we decided that we wouldn’t pay ourselves anything.

“I grabbed like six enormous stacks of potatoes and all the beer I could fit into my car and said, ‘This is feeding the family’.”

Having weathered every storm the city has thrown at it, it’s hard to believe the venue will close this weekend, having finally had its doors ordered shut for a new transport project.

Frankies, along with its neighbours on Hunter Street, will be demolished in early 2023 to make way for the Metro West line, which will link Parramatta to the Sydney CBD.

Announcing the closure on Instagram last month, the venue posted: “We thought this venue would outlive us. We‘ve seen trends come and go and steadfastly stood for RocknRoll through it all.

“With the unstoppable momentum of Sydney City‘s ‘infrastructure evolution’ set to demolish Hunter Street in early 2023, we have decided on a date to depart.”

A couple getting married at Frankies. Picture Instagram.JPG
Camera IconA couple chose Frankie’s as the venue for their wedding ceremony earlier this year. Instagram Credit: NCA NewsWire
Gilby Clarke, Guns N' Roses Picture Supplied.JPG
Camera IconGilby Clarke of Guns N’ Roses pictured on the Frankie’s stage. Supplied Credit: NCA NewsWire

Mr McDonald remains proud though, of how Frankies was able to withstand everything except a direct order to close.

“I think our whole philosophy and the thing that’s kept us going is this relentless perseverance,” Mr McDonald said.

“Keep the doors open, keep the beers flowing and when we weren’t allowed to, take the beer to the people.

“People need these venues, that’s the bright light that keeps people going at the end of the hard day’s work.”

‘The bright light that keeps people going’

For a long time Frankie’s has been like a lighthouse in the dark for those hungry for the night to rage on.

The neon red sign over the front door akin to the golden arches of McDonald’s on a long road trip.

They have been a must-stop shop on the travels of bands, artists and actors that pass through Sydney.

Punters tell stories of the nights they were lucky enough to rub shoulders with the likes of Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), Tre Cool (Green Day) and even Priscilla Presley.

Dave Grohl at Frankie's Pizza. Picture Supplied.JPG
Camera IconDave Grohl (right) of the Foo Fighters is among some of the big names who have visited Frankie’s Pizza. Frankie’s Pizza Credit: NCA NewsWire
Camera IconFacebook Credit: Supplied

The team is putting together a book to memorialise the venue, and while they have plenty of stories to fill the pages, they issued a call-out in July asking for stories from patrons.

American rock/country singer-songwriter Ryan Adams revealed in a lengthy comment that he wrote two songs while sitting in the venue.

“Places like Frankie’s reminded me why you cross oceans to play guitar – and that even as far from home as you can go, there are places where the dreams you begin with on your first KISS album never fade,” he wrote.

Camera IconGrammy Award-winning band Wolfmother performed at the venue this week. NCA NewsWire / Christian Gilles Credit: News Corp Australia
Camera IconThe venue often spontaneously hosted rock stars, actors and celebrities. NCA NewsWire / Christian Gilles Credit: News Corp Australia

Australian rock legends Wolfmother took over the red velvet clad stage earlier this week as revellers crammed into the venue.

The band has made numerous appearances over the last decade, some more spontaneous than others.

Mr McDonald recalls one night the venue was hosting a Battle of the Bands and Wolfmother lead singer Andrew Stockdale called asking if he could play a surprise set.

To no surprise for venue regulars, the Frankie’s House Band took home the trophy.

Keeping the dream alive

The timeworn venue is no longer just showing its age in ways the owners designed.

“Everything is really just hanging on, parts of the roof are caving in” Mr McDonald said.

Camera IconThe venue holds a 24-hour licence and no noise restrictions. NCA NewsWire / Christian Gilles Credit: News Corp Australia

“I’m hoping it holds together.”

The venue possesses a coveted 24-hour-licence with no noise restrictions, something that the owners knew would be near impossible to replicate moving forward.

“I’d love to do it again and I’d really love to see the name continue, but whether it continues in the physical sense, I’m really not certain at this stage,” Mr McDonald said.

Walking to the venue on Wednesday night, he said the line of people waiting to get in was snaking up the street for two blocks.

The funroom bathroom in the hidden bar. Picture Instagram.JPG
Camera IconA friend of Mr McDonald’s is excavating the Fun Room bathroom. Instagram Credit: NCA NewsWire

“It’s a captive audience just waiting to give you their business and the business aint gonna be there anymore. I don’t know where they are going to go,” he said.

The team plans to host an auction once the dust settles to sell off memorabilia and pieces of the venue’s iconic architecture, but some lucky regulars have already staked claim on a few items.

“There’s a friend of mine that is going to excavate the Fun Room bathroom,” Mr McDonald said.

“And another regular who has a pretty consistent perch in booth one is going to take the wall and use it as a piece of art.”

Jordan McDonald farewells Frankies. Picture: Instagram
Camera IconJordan McDonald (second from right) farewells Frankie’s on Sunday. Instagram Credit: NCA NewsWire

After a decade of living and breathing Frankie’s, it’s an overwhelming time for the staff who have built the institution from the ground up.

“For me personally, after the joint closes, I’m just gonna spend some time meditating in the space and if it feels right to take something physical I will,” he said.

“Maybe I will affix the neon out the front of my house.”

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