14 March 2024

The 6 top Canberra venues that should never have died

| James Coleman
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Capital Pancakes. Those were the days. Photo: Region Media.

In the wake of KFC Tuggeranong erupting into a ball of greasy fire last October, our hungry hearts were drawn to what other establishments we Canberrans might be missing out on.

We asked (via a post on The Canberra Page), and were met with a barrage of nostalgia. But at least six names kept coming up in the comments, so we decided to do some digging to find out what went wrong.

For instance, why you can’t get a cold one at the Cotter anymore?

1. Cotter Pub

Nowadays when you’ve unpacked the picnic hamper at the Cotter only to realise the drinks are still sitting at home on the bench, there’s nothing you can do. But it wasn’t always thus. Just past the river crossing near the Cotter Dam used to be the Cotter Pub.

It was built in 1971 on the top of an old kiosk (famous for its ice cream), and quickly earned a reputation for its enormous stone fireplace and popularity among bikies, fresh back from joy rides through the Brindabellas.

Then the 2003 bushfires came through and destroyed it. It’s never been rebuilt. But should it be?


Heaven was known for its gay and lesbian-friendly edge. Photo: SolStock, iStock.

2. Heaven

This was a big venue on the Civic nightclubbing scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s, managed by Sylvie Stern, a long-time presenter on radio show 2XX, arts advocate and volunteer dog-walker for Domestic Animal Services.

Australian writer, and Heaven regular, Nigel Featherstone described it as “an institution”.

“In one sense it was just another nightclub, a gay and lesbian nightclub sure, but really it was nothing more than a big black box with a DJ booth and mirror-ball,” he wrote in 2015.

“Every so often effort would be put into the decorations: some sort of material – white or red – draped from the ceiling as if a wedding might take place. But nightclubs aren’t about decoration. They’re about the music, and the dancing, and the people …”

Shopping bag

Impact Records was open from 1979 to 2004 in Civic. Photo: The Rockbrat Blog.

3. Impact Records

Located where Civic McDonald’s is now, this was like the Spotify of Canberra between the years of 1979 and 2004. But with added branded T-shirts, comic books and trading cards, and local bands regularly playing live in-store too.

The Rockbrat Blog recalls that in the mid ’80s “Canberra had a reputation as the death metal capital of Australia”, and Impact was the “gathering place for rock folk” to rifle through gig guides, import fanzines, and “tonnes and tonnes of LP records”.

“Impact Records stocked a huge range of imported metal albums, even stuff that was not seen in Sydney’s Utopia. Yet it was not just metal, their range was diverse and massive … They used to occasionally have great sales too, with much of the stock dragged outside on tables.”

The relentless march of technology killed Impact, and it moved to Potts Point in Sydney under the new name of Phoenix Music from 2007 to 2013. But with vinyl making somewhat of a retro comeback, if only it had hung on a little longer.

(However, you can still live out the glory days with this Impact Records T-shirt, for sale on RedBubble).

The closed sign on the doors of Capital Pancakes in Civic.

The closed sign on the doors of Capital Pancakes in Civic. Photo: Region.

4. Pancake Parlour

This Australian family-owned pancake restaurant chain was brought to near the Civic bus interchange in 1984 by Philip Barton, a chef fresh from running another Pancake Parlour in Melbourne. A key feature was its chess table (sold in 2021 for $2500).

In 2018, Philip ended the business’s association with the franchise and it became ‘Capital Pancakes’, with his two sons Jefferson and Luca in charge. However, it fell victim to COVID social-distancing requirements and the final customers were served on 14 May 2020.

At the time, Philip told Region lease negotiations had fallen flat and the limit of 10 customers at a time made it impossible to continue.

“The shutdown and follow-up restriction [of 10 customers] have obviously hit restaurant confidence and income hard,” he said.

“Without income, we’ve spent the last few months going quickly backwards. Overheads don’t stop.”

He promised Capital Pancakes was “down but not out”, but it’s yet to return.

The Phoenix, Civic. Photo: The Phoenix, Facebook.

5. The Phoenix

Describing itself as “Canberra’s best pub and original live-music venue”, it’s little wonder this is missed.

But this particular Phoenix struggled to rise from the ashes following a fire that ravaged the Sydney Building in February 2014. Not only was there further rain damage from a heavy fall in the days that followed, the venue was left out-of-pocket and waiting on insurance money.

“We have been repeatedly advised that [the claim] would clear by this week, but as it has not we unfortunately have to shut until it does,” a post to its Facebook page on 25 February 2019 read.

“We are not giving up and hope to inform you of our reopening soon.”

A GoFundMe page raised $50,000 in a matter of weeks, but it wasn’t enough to overcome “another quarter of licencing and insurance fees”.

It’s yet to reopen.

Private Bin, Canberra. Photo: Private Bin Reunion, Facebook.

6. Private Bin

The Private Bin opened in the Sydney Building 1973, first as an a la carte restaurant, then a tavern and finally a full-on nightclub (with the more sedate ‘Waffles Piano Bar’ next door).

An exhibition listing from the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) says “its dark corners, sticky floors and often under-age patrons were fabled throughout the city”.

“The club … became the place to go for the next 25 years, variously described as ‘glorious’, ‘seedy’, ‘infamous’ and, of course ‘dirty’. At its peak it averaged over 20,000 people a week. As a former DJ recalled: ‘People sneaking in … sex in the booths … but as long as you came there and drank, everything was overlooked’.”

The Private Bin closed in 1999 to become a fancy new venue called ICBM, which in turn closed in early 2014, following hardship after the same Sydney Building fire that spelt disaster for The Phoenix.

The ‘Private Bin’ neon sign that hung above the entrance was rescued by an employee of signwriting company Empire Signs and is living out its retirement in a man cave in Royalla.

Other honourable mentions

  • Canberra Dragway
  • Eldorados
  • Pandora’s
  • Revolving restaurant at Black Mountain Tower
  • Sizzlers
  • Terrace Bar
  • Woodstock
  • KFC Tuggeranong (or have we mentioned that already?)

Which Canberra venue do you miss?

Original Article published by James Coleman on Riotact.

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