Sydney’s longest-surviving gay venue, Ken’s at Kensington, will close its doors on May 20 for the last time after 40 years operation.
“It is with regret that I can confirm that Ken’s at Kensington will be closing due to the sale of the building,” owner Reiner Becker, owner of the iconic sex-on-premises venue, told the Star Observer in a statement.
“Our last day of trading will be May 20 — until then it is business as usual.”
Ken’s opened in 1972. The building that houses it, at 83 Anzac Pde, has a 50-year association with the LGBTI community as it also housed the Purple Onion nightclub, which opened in 1962.
Ken’s first owner was Ken “Kandy” Johnson, a drag queen from the Purple Onion who also owned the Park Inn Hotel in Woollahra — another early Sydney gay venue. Johnson opened Ken’s Baths in a gym at 97 Belmore Rd, Randwick in 1971, before relocating to the old Purple Onion building.
When Johnson remodelled the venue, the nightclub’s stage was replaced with a swimming pool, around which shows were occasionally still performed.
The venue was later sold to David Ross and Nicolas Lorschy who also opened the Roman Baths on Pitt St in the city in 1977.
At Anzac Pde, the venue was first known as Ken’s Karate Klub and also Kensington Karate Klasses.
With homosexuality in NSW not decriminalised until 1984, the names were supposed to explain the vinyl-covered mats and the thumping and groaning inside.
Ken’s at Kensington found itself in the news in 2010 when a Channel Seven film crew filmed then state Transport Minister David Campbell leaving the venue.
Becker told the Star Observer in 2002 that the venue attracted people from all walks of life.
“You never know who is going to fancy who,” Becker said.
“You can’t foretell what a person’s taste is going to be like. A towel is a great leveller.”
The closure of Ken’s at Kensington follows on the heels of the Taxi Club going into voluntary administration, and leaves King Steam as Sydney’s longest-operating gay venue, having opened its doors in 1974.