Frankie’s Pizza ‘Goes to Hell’ as iconic Sydney venue closes doors forever

Home Arts Frankie’s Pizza ‘Goes to Hell’ as iconic Sydney venue closes doors forever
Frankie’s Pizza ‘Goes to Hell’ as iconic Sydney venue closes doors forever

Pumping rock ‘n’ roll hits, a welcome late night pizza slice and whispers of a secret bar inside marked many late nights at Sydney’s Frankie’s Pizza.

“Hot pizza out front, endless party out the back,” co-owner Jordan McDonald summarises.

people in a dimly lit whisky bar
Some patrons went years without finding the secret whiskey bar.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

But soon it will be demolished to make way for an underground train station for the Sydney Metro.

The bar branded its final week as “Frankie’s Pizza Goes to Hell”

The party will fall silent after Sunday, exactly 10 years after it opened.

In the last week before closing, thousands of Sydneysiders spilled out around the corner on Hunter Street to score their last drink, last slice of pizza and jig into the early AM.

people beneath a low light booth in a club
Thousands lined up to get one last drink.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)
long haired men playing guitars sway backwards in front of a crowd in a dark room
Frankie’s was a staple of Sydney’s live music scene.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

Located in the city’s financial downtown, hedge-fund managers with silk ties could be seen mingling with metalheads clad in lace and leather.

Pouring into the seedy and sticky dancefloor beyond restaurant doors was every kind of person, all with the same goal of a good time.

Some older couples on Thursday night had returned to the venue to reminisce. They told men in cowboy outfits about the time Guns N Roses visited.

Younger pairs were also there on their first date, some sneaking off to pash by the pinball machines.

a young couple kiss in the ambient of a pinball machine
Intimate moments were shared away from the stage.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

The performers on stage throughout the week were also caught up in the nostalgia.

The venue was a staple of Sydney’s shrinking underground and countless bands had their first breakthrough on the club’s tiny platform.

“Frankie’s is the greatest venue in Australia,” the frontman of rock band The Casanovas declares to the crowd’s raucous agreement, “and we say that as people who come from Melbourne”.

Revellers dance to a live band.
The air inside the club in its final week was electrifying.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)
a man in biker gear at a booth
Every kind of person, from every kind of “tribe” could be found in the underground club.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

Beneath the low ceiling covered in band posters, graffiti and god-knows-what-else, every person from every “tribe” is equal, McDonald affirms.

“You do get the suits. But concurrently, you get the strippers,” McDonald says.

“You do get the weeknight vampires, the hospitality freaks, the tragics – all types.”

If anything, defying Sydney’s workaholic centre was something to be proud of, he says.

“It was like a clock off at five you get the hell out of there,” McDonald says.

“But we did cultivate a scene right there in the CBD and proved it could be done.”

two people in rock and roll style clothes pointing and laughing next to a stage
McDonald (right) wants the Frankie’s name to live on.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

Defying the odds

The lockout laws the New South Wales government introduced in February 2014 forced the 24-hour licensed venue to turn new patrons away at 1:30am.

While rates of drunken-violence plummeted across the Harbour City, many felt its soul had been hollowed out in the process.

Most late-night spots didn’t survive — especially at King’s Cross — but Frankie’s Pizza was a rare holdout.

diners in a low lit room with hundreds of vintage photos on the wall
The underground restaurant was famous for its bargain pizza and happy hour drinks.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

Patrons outside the venue described the place as “grimy”, “filthy”, “sketchy” but brimming with personality and carrying an undeniable sexual energy.

It was where people wanted to be at 1:30am and, provided they could behave, a place they could be themselves.

“No cover charges, no judgement,” says one woman.

Frankie’s was also one of the few venues that never turned to poker machines to stay afloat.

McDonald says the years were tough through lockout and the pandemic but the party spirit kept the venue alive.

people dancing in a club booth
The dancefloor exploded when Nirvana’s Smell Like Teen Spirit played.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

“We always kept our game face on,” McDonald says.

“And throw that party like there were no problems in the outside world.”

While they were tough years, McDonald says he’s had enough of complaints about Sydney’s nightlife.

“The general public, they really need to turn to us to keep their spirits high,” McDonald says.

“It shouldn’t be a place of complaint, it should be a place of revelry.”

A crowd watches a rock band play inside a dimly lit underground hall
Some bands got their first break playing on the stage.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)
a man in a mosh pit screaming
A mosh pit formed during a Slayer set earlier in the week.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

Rock ‘n’ roll royalty, but no royal treatment

The bar was a destination for international celebrities and touring rock legends such as Guns N Roses, Dave Grohl, Queens of the Stone Age, Priscilla Presley and Jason Momoa.

Despite this claim to fame, McDonald hates name-dropping personalities who have graced the halls of Frankie’s. He says they never treated anyone like royalty and that’s why the big names kept coming back.

“From the very start we had a no VIP treatment, no preferential treatment, no door lists, no guest lists,” McDonald says.

“I think that’s why they love it down there — because they don’t get treated like some special case.”

a singer in moody stage lighting
Frankie’s final chords will play out on Sunday night.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

One more song?

When the plans for the Metro Station were announced in May last year, the transport minister said the place would be looked after and relocated.

Over a year later, McDonald says there has not been a suitable location to move into.

But this doesn’t mean the end of the Frankie’s name, or McDonald’s spirit.

two guitarists in ambient light playing together
Pizza out front, party at the back.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)
two men in a dark backstage before a rock show
All the tribes combined for a good time, Frankie’s co-owner Jordan McDonald (left) says.(ABC News: Kevin Nguyen)

“I do want the Frankie’s Pizza name to live on. Whether that occurs in a physical sense or not, I’m not certain,” McDonald says.

“I can say that I’ll be involved in another game-changing rock and roll bar in the future.”

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