Great Melbourne Venues #5: The Palace

Before it burned down, the Palace entertainment complex in St Kilda hosted some incendiary bands

It was largely unloved; a bit of a shiny barn in St Kilda with unhappy bar staff and a glassed-off room upstairs where alleged VIPs looked down on mere mortals and ignored the bands, who they could barely hear anyway. The front bar was a less pretentious hang out where you might find Joe Strummer at a Primal Scream concert, happily chatting with ageing punks. There was also a consistently terrible dance venue out the back.

Like many ugly buildings, the Palace was constructed in the early ’70s. It sat close to the foreshore of St Kilda Beach, aside the more aesthetic – embarrassingly so – Palais Theatre and historic Luna Park. The wind whipping off the sea could sober up the most alcohol-fuelled punter quick smart.

Being pretty big – you could squeeze a four-figure crowd and then some – the Palace filled the gap between venues like the Corner, or Central Club, both in Richmond, which could accommodate about 500 people, and Festival Hall which has remained the city’s ugly duckling but is still the only option for acts who wouldn’t fill the 10,000 seats of Rod Laver Arena with their 3,000 or 4,000 fans.

The Palace hosted the biggest alternative (for want of a better word, and we’re still searching for it) acts on the planet, particularly from the mid-’80s to 2000. The list of visitors is possibly the best who’s who of any ex-licensed venue in the country: an earth-quaking Nirvana soon after the release of Nevermind, Violent Femmes (pictured), Cheap Trick, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Teenage Fanclub, Aztec Camera, Joan Jett, Echo and the Bunnymen, Beastie Boys, the Wonderstuff, Garbage, Weezer, Queens of the Stone Age, Wilco, Weezer and Hole (with a guest slot from Evan Dando who was hanging out with Courtney Love, or something). Pretty much every Australian band who ever mattered graced the stage at some point.

The Palace closed in July 2007 after some unpleasantness in the courts. Curiously, a few weeks later, half of it burnt to the ground. The other half was subsequently torn down, and a new Palace was opened at the site of the Metro in the city. A vastly superior site, it’s now under imminent threat of closure by developers. They’re everywhere.

First published on 28 Nov 2013. Updated on 28 Feb 2014.

By Michael Witheford   |  

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