Nightclub renovations reveal a deep slice of Sydney’s gay history

Capriccio's carousel stage, dating back to 1969 has been revealed during renovations. Photo: Carousel Bar and Ballroom.

A relic of Oxford Street’s earliest gay bar has been revealed as part of the renovations of Level 2, 169 Oxford Street.

When the owners of the new Carousel Bar and Ballroom began their renovations they discovered an old carousel stage beneath two more recent stages that had been built over it by subsequent tenants of the building.

Now they’ve identified the original owner of the carousel stage and its special place in Sydney’s gay history,

It turns out that the original stage dates back to 1969 when legendary lesbian night club owner Dawn O’Donnell opened Oxford Street’s first gay bar at 169 Oxford Street, Capriccio’s.

The venue was known for its drag performances that rivaled Les Girls in Kings Cross.

As described by celebrated Sydney gay scene photographer William Yang, “the most popular place was Capriccio’s in Oxford Street.”

“There were two floors, a bar on the first and a theatre with tables and chairs and a stage upstairs. It was always busy.”

Following the success of Capriccio’s, O’Donnell opened several other venues catering to gay men and lesbians in Darlinghurst, cementing the area as Sydney’s Gaybourhood for decades to come.

Carousel Bar and Ballroom owner Kerry Wallace hopes to honour that history through the new venue which he says will be a “cabaret inspired 70s discotheque” in the heart of Oxford Street.

Grand opening weekend

The venue is holding a grand opening weekend from 9-10 September with Saturday and Sunday night lineups showcasing many of the brands that will be involved with the future of the venue.

The Saturday night opening will feature house music and minimalist tunes, while Sunday night will showcase the many “colourful threads that make up the fabric” of Oxford Street.

Brands that will feature across the weekend will include S.A.S.H, GiRLTHING, B.A.G, Poof Doof, Heavenly, Little Love, Snare, Canned Fruit, Runway and special guest Simon Caldwell.

Topping the line-up will be one third of Apollonia, Shonky, who will be making the long trip from Paris for the opening party and will be the first international artist to play Carousel.

“Come one, come all, there are no boundaries. Just music,” the new owners say, “See you on the dancefloor!”

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Andrew M Potts

Andrew has been covering LGBTQIA+ issues for a range of publications in Australia over two decades and was the Asia-Pacific correspondent for global LGBTQIA+ news website Gay Star News.

QNews, Brisbane Gay, App, Gay App, LGBTI, LGBTI News, Gay Australia

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