New operators will soon take over the first floor and rooftop bars at 648 Ann St, Fortitude Valley. The building’s colourful history includes a role in the story of Brisbane’s notorious lesbian vampire killers.
This writer enjoys vivid memories of various joints that operated at 648 Ann — the upstairs fortune tellers, my first broken nose, middle of the night grog deliveries, the world’s worst-ever drag shows… What a place!
The first mentions QNews could find of the building date from 1930. A retail outlet operated downstairs with free trials of Electrolux Vacuum Machines at the premise.
Accommodation was available upstairs.
“WANTED: Young Man. Share large room, private bath and entrance, board optional; 648 Ann Street, Valley.”
In 1937, a Mr Phillips took over downstairs for his used car sales. In the 1940s, Miss Ilma Conlon opened her Viola Dance School downstairs. She taught ‘all kinds of stage dancing’ though probably not the kinds of stage dancing performed in the same room a few decades later. By the late 40s, the Edwardian Hair Salon offered non-electric permanent waves.
While we could find no mention of what was going on upstairs at this time, in 1951, an auctioneer sold off the ‘Masseur’s Equipment, Furniture and Effects’ from a previous business.
QUEENIE will be pleased to meet you
In 1953, Queenie opened the tearoom upstairs which operated on the first floor until the early 1980s.
“QUEENIE will be pleased to meet you at 648 Ann St. Valley.”
“QUEENIE. Entertaining First Floor, 648 Ann St.”
In the 1970s, colourful Valley identity, Tony Bellino operated first a spaghetti bar and then a nightclub on the premises. Both were known as Pinocchio’s.
This writer first went there in the late 70s and remembers the place as the scene of my first broken nose. Unbeknownst to me, one of the bouncers found me attractive and shared that information with the other doormen. However, they knew something about me that he did not and relentlessly mocked him for it.
“She’s got a dick.”
The first I knew of the situation was when he king-hit me. I’d never even noticed the man before, but it was all my fault. I remember thinking as everything went black and I fell to the floor, “F___, the cartoons are right. You do see stars.”
Ronny, the venue’s perpetually cranky manager, fired the guy an hour later. Not for assaulting me but because the other doormen did not want to work with the ‘poof’. Oh, the frailty of the heterosexual male ego.
Poor old Ronny worked his arse off keeping the customers, his boss and the police happy. Grog deliveries arrived in the middle of the night, with kegs and cartons of booze trolleyed through the club from a truck pulled up on the footpath. Occasionally, the traffic went the other way with Ronny carrying cartons of beer through the crowd and depositing into the open boot of a cop car in front of the club.
Pinocchio’s first hosted occasional drag shows in the late 70s.
On one occasion, English drag superstar Danny La Rue arrived at the beginning of one of the worst drag shows in the history of the world. You think Drag Race Down Under was bad?
The show featured an elderly English drag queen notorious for telling porkies — and not little white lies — huge f___ing whoppers. He claimed that MI5 arranged for him to live in Brisbane under a secret identity to cover up his affair with Prince Phillip. He also claimed to have taught Danny La Rue everything he knew.
And now, Danny La Rue was in his audience.
I will call the drag queen Barracuda which was Freda Mae West’s nickname for her great enemy. Freda Mae West and Barracuda’s rivalry made the likes of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford or Meghan and Kate look like schoolyard tiffs.
Barracuda arrived on stage, struck a pose, opened his cavernous mouth and waited for the song to begin. The DJ gently dropped the stylus onto a recording of Shirley Bassey’s greatest hits.
“Where do I begin, To tell the story of how great a love can be.”
The song played but Barracuda remained frozen in place, a look of horror permeating his usual scowl.
“Next track! You’ve put on the wrong fooking song, you tosser,” he bawled at the DJ.
The poor DJ tried another track, and another, until on the fourth attempt he found the song Barracuda wanted. Though why it mattered, who knows. He still didn’t know the words.
I later performed at the club myself. It underwent various changes of name and management but remained pretty much the same place. Our dressing rooms were in a courtyard out the back. A thick plastic tablecloth covered a table in one dressing room — a place for underage patrons to shelter during occasional visits from honest cops — not a very frequent occurrence.
A ladder sometimes rested against the tall wall at the back of the courtyard. Climbing it one night, I discovered a one-metre space between the wall and the Target building next door. Apparently, during weeknight police raids, underage would scoot up the ladder and take it with them into that space and remained concealed there until the cops either did their work or accepted a payoff to leave.
Lesbian Vampire Killers
In 1989, the club became famous as the base of the infamous lesbian vampire killers. Although I previously left Brisbane, I knew some of the participants in the hideous event.
On the night of 20 October 1989, Tracey Wigginton and three friends lured a drunk council worker into their car on the promise of sex. They drove to a riverside park in West End where Wigginton stabbed the man 27 times, killing him. She also drank some of his blood.
Wigginton later claimed she was a vampire and did not eat but lived off pig and cow blood she obtained from a butcher.
True? Who knows? There were a lot of bad drugs around in those days and responsible service of liquor was way in the future. I remember thinking at the time it was a load of old shit intended to provide a base for an insanity plea.
Tracey Wigginton was released on parole in 2012 and lives quietly in Brisbane.
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