Ken’s at Kensington to close

Ken’s at Kensington to close

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.

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38 responses to “Ken’s at Kensington to close”

  1. The saddest day of my life, my one and only fortitude of solace is gone – i hope some rich man has enough sense to buy it and keep it as it is or to do something to save my space (our space) where u were never judged for who u are.

    Thanx for the memories guys.


  2. To John from Canberra & Rick – so your saying none of ‘those’ types (the ones you don’t like) didn’t go to Kens?
    Over the 15yrs I was in Sydney I certainly saw many of all types at all the venues mentioned, including Kens.
    What people are saying this that negative comments like John’s are not helpful & are a form of discrimination akin to any other. Especially when said in a neagative way like that.
    As others have said, hopefully John & Rick (who must be stunners with no faults given their arrogance)stay away from the other venues so everyone else can enjoy themselves

  3. What John from Canberra said is true, everyone knows it, some of you need to stop being so precious.

  4. So very sad. I have been going to Ken’s on and off for about 20 years. Met someone there that I spent three years with. Had some great fun times. Will miss all those sexy men who will now remain wandering in the corridors of my mind…

  5. I was raised in the Sydney suburbs and came out when in my twenties. Coming out was difficult and Ken’s provided a safe place to discover my sexuality. Slightly away from the bright lights of the city, it was discreet but still provided an opportunity to start meeting gay men and get the confidence to come out. Once I did come out I always felt so happy going there as an out and proud Sydneysider. Thank you Kens!

  6. Agree with Dave about John from Canberra. At least your professed intention to not attend any of the other venues will spare anyone the misfortune of encountering you and your attitudes. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and we have a right to feel comfortable and safe. May be you should stay in Canberra.

    That aside, a end of an era. Hopefully all the memories will stay strong and inspire those that need the strength to find new safe and happy places. There is still a need for places that can provide solace in what can still be a hard world despite the progress that has been made.

  7. I also remember I was sitting in the “steam room” when just outside on street level was the Sydney Olympic Marathon in 2000

    All those runners following the blue line along ANZAC Pde.

    Too Funny !

  8. Oh this indeed is sad.

    As a former University of New South Wales (UNSW) student I spent most of my Bachelor of Arts Degree at “Kens”. And graduated with Honours.


    R.I.P. another Gay Institution :(

  9. I think they should have a closing party on Anzac Parade. A “towel-free” night.

  10. This is a tragedy because the guys at Ken’s were always much better than any of the other saunas with bodybuilders and athletic men predominating the clientelle. King Steam has uglier, older and usually fat guys, Bodyline has young twinky boys, Sydney City Steam has mostly Asians. For those of us from interstate who wanted to meet top quality guys from the suburbs we now have nowhere to go. Let’s hope Ken’s will reopen in a location that won’t be bought out in a few years time by property developers wanting to make a whole heap of money building more little boxes on the hillside.

  11. I’ve been a regular at KKK for ages…. am going to miss the sunday afternoons and occassional week day nights… highlights was that period of time when seymour butz used to play on a sunday afternoon :-) thanks to all the great staff and many ‘friends’ i’ve made at at the venue… now where… Kingsteam????

  12. These are important historical buildings. They are from times as Bob Brown put it, when people would walk up to him and put their cigarettes out in his hand, for simply being an openly gay man when he was young GP. They were safe places to meet, and vital social gatherings took place in a time when life could be incredibly cruel for same-sex attracted people. They are deserving of the National Trust and to be turned into a museum that documents our challenges over the years.

  13. I am one of the staff members at Ken’s and I will miss my co-workers and the customers I have grown to know since I started working there in 2010. There will never be another Ken’s.

  14. This is too sad. I met my hubby there 20 years ago, and spent many an enjoyable Christmas day there, avoiding families and parties.

  15. Have faith radical53. It is through the push into mainstream society that you will have your freedom. It is merely the means to an end.

  16. What is to become of the clientele?

    Most were around when the place first opened and have no hope of managing all those stairs at Bodyline.

  17. What a loss. Great staff, fun venue. Gay life is no more. Sure beats cruising online. Luv the naked nights on Tuesday & Fridays.

  18. Well it is certainly a great shame that the doors have to close for the last time on May 20th. I for one will definitely miss the place because I have been going there off and on for over 20 years and I just love the place and all of the great friendly staff as well. is there any chance you guys might renovate and re-open again further down the track. Best wishes to all the crew and staff no matter what happens one way or the other and take care and look after yourselves.

  19. What a sad day. I’m in the UK and it’s difficult to be so far away and hear of Sydney’s iconic venues closing. First the Taxi Club, now Ken’s, I won’t recognise the old girl when I get back :-(

  20. The Purple Onion – the first gay venue I ever went to. What a shock for a 16yo at the time (but a pleasant one – it was nice to know I was no longer on my own as a lover of males).

  21. This is not about losing a sauna, its about loosing your safe home, your community and the incredable warm and friendly staff that made it so.

  22. A sad loss to the gay community, especially gay men.

    But it is about our lifestyle and way of life which is now under a threat. This is the future for us now.

    As we are pushed into reforming and embracing mainstream society.

  23. Oh thats a shame!!! i use to love going there with my man and have a bit of fun…we where going to go this weekend…wish we did!!!