The iconic regional live music venues we deeply miss from the last 30 years

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The iconic regional live music venues we deeply miss from the last 30 years

Karova Lounge, Ballarat

Gone but not forgotten.

Melbourne has long been regarded as Australia’s cultural capital, and for good reason. For years, it has been boasting stunning street art, fascinating exhibitions, gastronomic delights, comedy, sporting entertainment, and of course, live music. However, the CBD shouldn’t get all the credit. From Geelong to Ballarat to Castlemaine, regional Victoria has been doing its fair share of the work as well, bringing local and big-name musicians to the forefront.

And while we’re lucky enough to still have a slew of superior live entertainment venues in the region (Barwon Club, The Wool Exchange, The Torquay Hotel, The Bridge Hotel, The Eastern and The Theatre Royal to name a few), we’re feeling a tad nostalgic for the music venues that have shut down across the years.

So, we’ve put together a list of some of the past live music institutions that proved critical to the region’s live music community over the last 30 years. Many of these iconic live music venues have shut down completely, while some have closed and reopened as new ventures.

Have you seen a gig at any of these?

Karova Lounge, Ballarat
Unquestionably one of Ballarat’s most iconic live music venues, this spot has attracted some of Australia’s most renowned musicians and performers over its 15 years. Before closing their doors late last year, the venue has seen the like of Okkervil River, Paul Dempsey, Birds of Tokyo, 360, Ben Kweller, Peking Duk, Josh Pyke, Ali Barter, Girl Talk, Wolfmother, You Am I, The Jezabels, Boy & Bear, Something for Kate, Art vs. Science, DZ Deathrays, Thirsty Merc, King Parrot, Set Mo, Augie March and Architecture in Helsinki.

Not only did the venue play host to a seemingly endless list of Australian and international talent, but Karova Lounge also prided itself on promoting the local acts that were well on the way to making themselves known across the country, including the likes of Epicure, Yacht Club DJs, Hunting Grounds, and Goldfields, many of whom credit their beginning to the humble venue.

And let’s not forget their iconic car park parties that attracted the attention of hundreds of music lovers from across the region.

The venue officially shut its doors in October 2019, before been rebirthed in the form of Volta – Arts and Culture earlier this year.

The Nash, Geelong
Who could ever forget those long, boozy, music filled nights, stuck to the carpet or rocking out to some of Australia’s biggest bands in the smokey, dimly lit back room of the dingy, yet charming rock n roll pub dubbed affectionately – ‘the Nash’.

A place where many local bands cut their teeth and a tonne of nationals and internationals performed, there was nowhere like the Nash at the time – the lovable dive bar that feels like you’re at a house party – and this is still true for the present day… Which makes us miss it even more!

Bands that rolled through over the years include Black Cobra, DZ Deathrays, Last Dinosaurs, Guttermouth, Bring Me The Horizon, John Butler Trio, Thy Art Is Murder, Mammal, Frenzal Rhomb, Gareth Liddiard, and The Hard Ons, among many others.

The venue officially ceased operating as a live music venue on November 10 in 2012 after major problems with the foundations that the building is built upon were discovered. It reopened back in 2017 with a modern makeover and now operates as restaurant and pub The National Hotel.

The Lost Ones Basement Bar, Ballarat
When you think of live music in Ballarat, odds are you went straight to Karova Lounge. However around about the same time as Karova’s closure, The Lost Ones stepped it up on the music front, ensuring live performances in the region continued to thrive.

Hosing muso’s in the ambient basement bar (originally the Masonic Temple’s dining hall), this was the place to go for a calm, acoustic, jazz/soul-filled evening, featuring performances from the likes of Anna Smyk, Mick Trembath, A Miner, Gretta Ziller, Nathan Seeckts, Neil Murray, Sarah Carroll and many others.

The basement bar officially ceased as a live music venue back in January this year to make way for the famed 18th Amendment Bar.

The Loft, Warrnambool
It was a sad day back in February last year when news broke that renowned Warrnambool venue The Loft was to close its doors for the last time in June, due to poor attendance and a shift in the local live music scene.

Over the past two decades, more than 300 acts have played at The Loft each year, including performances from iconic Australian musicians such as Kate Miller-Heidke, Tim Rogers, Sarah Blasko and Dallas Crane. The venue, which opened 20 years ago as The Liquid Lounge, helped foster the talents of up-and-coming south-west musicians in their early days, such as Jackson McLaren, Didirri, Nancie Schipper and Tom Richardson.

The lengthy closure of Liebig Street for streetscape works, the axing of the local newspaper’s music page and limited radio support for live acts, were also contributing factors in the venues closure according to The Loft’s operator and passionate live music promoter Lyn Mast when we spoke to her last year.

The Loft played their final gig with its annual festival Arockalypse, which included three stages of live music playing all day, featuring Nancie Schipper, Nathan Seekts, The Refuge, Hidden Intent, The Alamo and Rage Against the Sewing Machine.

The Perch, Bendigo
Central Victoria’s largest town has had a bit of an up-and-down in maintain a live music venue, however with the arrival of The Perch has seen live music scene once again flourish.

Housing massive Aussie names such as Ball Park Music, Boy & Bear and British India, not to mention a slew of rising DJs, The Perch has cemented itself as one of Bendigo’s best destinations for catching live music.

21 Arms, Ballarat
One of Ballarat’s past icons, 21 Arms Nightclub traded throughout the 90’s – 2009 bringing through a number of quality live acts, including Jebediah, 28 Days, Grinspoon, Sonic Animation, Regurgitator, 1200 Techniques, Jimmy Barnes, Killing Heidi and many more. The last few gigs it hosted included The Amity Affliction, Deez Nuts, Kisschasy, Evermore, Bring Me The Horizon and Between The Buried And Me.

Unique in every way, the venue had five rooms with three dance floors with different beats to party to, as well as six bars. If you’re truly nostalgic for this place, there’s actually a dedicated Facebook memorial page, full of photos from its glory days.

The venue closed as 21 Arms in 2009, making way for Bluestone nightclub.

Eureka Hotel, Geelong
Eureka was the go-to place for live music since the early days thanks to its band culture, low ceiling and sticky floors. The 70s and 80s signalled a peak for Geelong nightlife, hosting the likes of Skyhooks, Cold Chisel, Sneakers, Mi-Sex, Jimmy and The Boys, Split Enz, INXS, Russell Morris, and Rose Tattoo on a regular basis.

With countless renovations and takeovers (at one point it was named the Eureka Sports Saloon Café) that barely saw any bands come through over the years, it wasn’t until paparazzi extraordinaire Darryn Lyons took over the business in 2008/2009, resurrecting the venue for a whole new generation.

That marked the revival of Geelong’s nightlife and since that fateful day, Eureka showcased before-they-were-famous bands such as Tame Impala, Wolfmother, Bluejuice, Grinspoon and Birds of Tokyo.

In more recent years, the venue went on to host the likes of PNAU, local band The Hollow, Peking Duk, and The Potbelleez, alongside a number of local, national and international DJs.

105 years later, 1000+ artists and 1,000,000 punters later, the venue closed its doors in November 2017 with a final hoorah ‘Farwell For The Last Time’. The venue reopened as a restaurant and bar, Westend, last year following extensive renovations.

Babushka Bar, Ballarat
Located on Humffray Street, Babushka Bar was originally founded as a venue for musicians, artists and like minds to socialise and enjoy an atmosphere of music, cocktails, art and conversation. The little alternative wine bar boasted a pretty groovy beer garden and was the place to go when you were looking for a causal evening of relaxing and listening to live acoustic music.

Over the six years it operated, it saw hundreds of great musicians pass through, including Maja, The Engagement, Someday June, Skyscraper Stan, Shaun Kirk, Wendy Rule, Lloyd Spiegel. Tennyson King, Malcura, Bill Barber, The Weeping Willows, to name a few.

The venue – which was renowned for its music system quality – officially closed their door in November of 2017 due to financial pressure and increased council regulation.

Your Break, Warrnambool
Your Break was a quality night spot for Warrnambool locals since owner Neil Swan opened the venue in 2009. With local talent and cheap drinks, its role was being one of the few live music venues in the area offering live metal bands. They’d serve up a killer dose of metal from all sub-genres on the first Saturday of every month, including the likes of Wounded Pig, Kick Gnome, Spaulding, Oppression, among others.

With a license until 3am and $5 entry, Your Break was all about the good times.

The Lyric, Geelong
Everyone loved The Lyric (thanks Stewart ‘Disco’ Harrison). Housed in the historic bluestone St Giles Church on Gheringhap Street, it was well loved by music fans thanks to its amazing setup and was the height of Geelong’s ‘90s night life.

Literally packed out every weekend, the Lyric hosted some of the biggest bands of the day, including Skyhooks, Regurgitator, TISM, Hunters and Collectors, You Am I, Weezer, The Avalanches, Eskimo Joe, Superheist, Taxiride, Crowded House, Barnsey and Midnight Oil, among many others, right up until about 2003.

The stained-glass windows were amazing and they had delicious $6 illusion shakes which were just as epic. If you went to ‘lyric unders’ it was probably shut down by the time you were legal to club.

Suttons House of Music, Ballarat
It was a sad day for the local music industry when Sutton’s announced their closure back in 2017 after the business was unable to renegotiate a lease with its landlord.

In their three year’s operating, Sutton’s managed to host 594 gigs, with 233 of those being Ballarat artists, 97 from local high school students, 32 community events and 42 theatrical, proving its significance in the regional town.

Contributing to Ballarat’s booming live music industry, names that graced the Suttons stage included the likes of The Black Sorrows, Dan Sultan, Ian Moss, Ross Wilson, Diesel, Renee Geyer, Beccy Cole, Lloyd Spiegel, Jeff Lang and Daryl Braithwaite, among many others.

After sitting silent for two years, the venue reopened only recently as the second location for Geelong’s famed Piano Bar.

The Old Crown, Bendigo
Bendigo has had many live music venues, but for any band that set out to conquer the music world in the 1990s, the Old Crown was always there. Every local band had this place on their resume. It was just the way it went. You know when a friend says ‘you really had to be there’. Well, you did. And then there was karaoke.

We must also mention the accommodation up top. Did anyone crash there? While we’re on old haunts, a special mention must go to the Waterloo as well. Tell us, did your band play there?

Lady Bay Hotel, Warrnambool
No, not the Lady Bay Resort! For anyone who lived in Warrnambool until around 2001, this pub was one of the city’s most famous (and infamous) live music venues in the region until it was demolished to make way for the aforementioned resort.

Known simply as The Bay, the arrival of rock and roll in the 1960s and 70s saw The Bay transformed into a place for serious partying to some of Australia’s best bands – including Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil, The Angels, Paul Kelly and the Coloured Girls, Icehouse, Australian Crawl, Hoodoo Gurus…and many more. The Monkees and Men At Work even made an appearance.

What a time.

The Bended Elbow, Geelong
Ah the Bended. The Bended Elbow (also known as the Bended, The Yarra Hotel) was known as a ‘traditional British pub with flair’. With a restaurant, bar, function room and club, it’s the live entertainment (and maybe the karaoke) that kept us coming back time and time again. The early 2000’s marked its best days, hosting the likes of Illy, The Butterfly Effect, Dead Letter Circus, Twelve Foot Ninja, You Am I, SAFIA, San Cisco, Tim Rogers, British India and Karnivool – among others.

Much of The Bended Elbow’s success and the 139+ local and international artists that rolled into the venue can be credited to Spinning Half booker Steven Nichols, who was instrumental in cultivating The Bended Elbow’s name in the Geelong live music circuit.

The Bridge Mall Inn, Ballarat
Originally named the North Grant Hotel and built from timber during the gold rush in the 1850s, the ‘Bridgey’ or ‘the rat’ became the centre of a vibrant and experimental Ballarat music scene in the late 80s and 90s and early 2000s. Punters saw the likes of The Whitlams, Powderfinger, The Waifs, Something For Kate, The Dead Salesmen, Epicure, Immaculata, Jebediah, Screamfeeder, Sick Puppies, Augie March, and Geelong rock icons Magic Dirt.

Over many years, the pub built a name for itself as a venue where local and up-and-coming bands could perform their own compositions in front of a live audience with the chance to support the larger touring acts as well.

Sadly, The Rat closed in 2003, leaving a major hole in the live music scene in Ballarat at the time.

The Musicman Megastore, Bendigo
Bendigo had a few live music staples and this was one of them! This was a venue consistently putting on solid shows every weekend, featuring an array of both local, national and internationally touring artists. They were one of the venues that truly dedicated themselves to supporting local talent, never shying away from giving a band or artist their first gig.

Over the years, they hosted everyone from The Bennies to The Smith Street Band and King Parrot, putting a heavy emphasis on creating shows for bands in genres not necessarily recognised by the mainstream.
It wasn’t much to look at one the outside, but inside was all you needed for a great night listening to live music – a bar, a pool table, a massive stage and a dance floor.

The venue hosted its last gig in December 2018 before closing up due to financial pressures and a wee drug scandal.

Geelong Showgrounds, Geelong
Okay so not exactly a dedicated live music venue as such, but when was the last time there was a solid gig hosted here (besides that time Nollzy performed for Oktoberfest in 2018)?

Back in the 90s the venue saw the likes of Blink-182, The Vandals, The Living End, Pennywise and Reel Big Fish as part of the Vans Warped Tour in 1998, as well as the likes of Andrea Marr, Claude Hay, Sweet Felicia, Jason Singh, Rick Price, Daryl Braithwaite, The Detonators, Boom Crash Opera and the one and only John Farnham.

Wouldn’t mind seeing more of this at the showgrounds!

Criterion Hotel, Warrnambool
Affectionately known as The Cri, this one was simply loved for its sticky floor, NY subway vibe, filthy toilets and the slew of rock band that rolled on through. Punters crowdsurfed with lit cigarettes between their lips to the likes of Airbourne, The Fauves, Warped, Deadnaught, Powderfinger and Shihad. This venue was guided by the saying, ‘what happens at the Cri, stays at the Cri’.

Closing in 2008, the venue was demolished in 2013 in response to fears it could collapse following a fire a few years prior.

Entrée Music Bar, Bendigo
The Entree Music Bar (formerly the McIvor Hotel)’s presence in Bendigo was unfortunately very short-lived. Opening as a dedicated music venue, presenting a genuinely eclectic array of bands, it looked to be a crucial addition to the local music scene.

Kicking off in April 2019, the venue hosted the likes of Bill Barber, Rhyley McGrath, Steph Bitter, Trevor Petrie, Sherri Parry, Daniel Aaron, Four Lions and Nathan Seeckts, among others.

Celebrating everything music, the venue sadly closed after just 10 weeks of trading, citing timing, maintenance issues, location, among others reasons.

Limelight Lounge, Geelong
Home to the iconic Basement 159, prior to that this venue was the Limelight Lounge that renovated Wills Sport store into a very popular nightspot in the early 2000s. Here we saw the likes of The Gin Club, Bob Evans, Farryl Purkiss, Four Play String Quartet, Andrew Morris, Chris Brady, Rory Ellis, and
Limelight closed its doors in August 2007.

Honourable Mention
While still present today (and the recent recipient of a government live music grant), The Wool Exchange Entertainment Complex was the pinnacle of the local live music scene back in the day before been restored to its former glory in more recent years.

It hosted some of the biggest bands around in the 80s, including Midnight Oil, The Angels, Icehouse, Psuedo Echo, Models, Divinyls and Hoodoo Gurus just to name a few. 1997 was a great year, with the likes of Powderfinger, NOFX, Grinspoon, Paul Kelly and Midnight Oil, and You Am I, TISM, Killing Heidi, Taxiride, and Shihad in the years to follow. From 2013, the venue was back in the game putting on the likes of The Rubens, British India, The Amity Affliction, Dead Letter Circus, Rufus Du Sol and more.

A mention must be made to the pizza parlour ‘Fat Boys’ that was located in the venue at one stage.

And a few quick bites
-The Rose, Torquay – hosted the likes of Ash Grunwald, Kate Miller‐Heidke, Blue King Brown
-The Max Hotel, Geelong – a favourite for pub bands and cover bands
-The Wrong Crowd, Geelong – hosting jazz and other interesting music, including burlesque
-The Flying Horse, Warrnambool – hosted the likes of Bluejuice, The Black Sorrows and You Am I
-The Scottish Chiefs, Geelong – good for live pub music

If you remember any old live music venues we have forgotten, drop us a line on Facebook.

For more light reads, check out our piece 26 things everyone has said or done on a night out at Lambys.