King St struggles with its identity

By Rhonda Dredge

A prominent strip club on the corner of King and Lonsdale streets closed in January to make way for a 20-storey office tower.

The Goldfinger Club promised double the girls and double the fun on its Facebook page.

Is its demise a sign that King St is having a post-COVID identity crisis? 

Next door to the former strip club is the sales office for a flashy apartment block called the Melbourne Grand and other projects are going up across King St.

Some are worried that the council is allowing development to run rampant in the west end of the city while protecting the more salubrious east end.

“Men’s clubs are not really at risk,” Max Gibson, the manager of Melbourne City Backpackers said. “Another one just opened up next door.”

The hostel is on the strip of cafes, bars, nightclubs and pubs between Bourke and Lonsdale streets and the strip still seems to be trading thanks to some adaptations to the times.

The hostel stayed open during the pandemic for international students and nearby hotels are reporting that night clubbers from the suburbs are now their main customer base. 

“We’re 30 to 40 per cent full during the week and fully booked during the weekend,” the concierge at the Melbourne Hotel in Little Bourke St said. 

“People come from interstate and the suburbs for a night out.”

There’s a construction site across the street from the Melbourne Hotel blasting it with noise every time the door opens and the hotel’s café is closed but that doesn’t stop the punters from lining up at the night club next door, the concierge said.

It’s a similar story at the Hotel Sofia, an old-fashioned pub across the road from the former strip club, which is doing some trade despite the pressure.

“It’s pretty patchy. If I didn’t own the building I wouldn’t be in business,” Paul Castan said, who’s been on the strip for 26 years. “Our biggest break is Saturday night. People come to the nightclubs.” 

Mr Castan claims to sell the best parmas in the Southern Hemisphere at the Golden Age, the pub next door to the hotel, even if he has to do the cooking himself. “All our dishes are organic,” he said, proudly pointing at the “full menu”.

Paul doesn’t like the men’s clubs himself because of the exploitation of women but he’d never speak against them. He’s mates with the owner of the Men’s Gallery on the corner.

There’s a pride in the architecture of this low-rise strip that could be at risk if too many tall buildings go up. 

“It’s very urban in King St, more urban than the other side of the city where fast shopping dominates,” Mr Gibson said. “The buildings are a lot older, more historic.”

Melbourne City Backpackers closed one of its three hostels but kept the King St one open with just 20 residents. The hostel normally holds 140. 

“We had to,” Max said. “We had students staying here. Ones from Europe got chartered flights back. They’re mostly from South America.”

He said that a lot of hostels closed, including the Travellers Hostel next door. “It’s sad what happened. We survived. I had to let lots of staff go. It’s been tough.”

At least the Kilkenny Inn will be preserved at street level in the proposed office development plan which went before council for comment on May 18. “When I first came here they had a magic cook,” Mr Castan said. “Asian/Western.”

He feels like they’ve been taken over by the apartments. “There’s Central Equity at the back then the Far East and the Carlton Ritz. I welcome an office tower. We need that. People in apartments don’t come here. They don’t appreciate a pub.” •

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