Neon ghost signs mark Kings Cross strip clubs Porky's and Dreamgirls

The strippers who worked the poles at Porky’s Night Spot in Kings Cross are long gone and so too are the spruikers who beckoned packs of drunk young men inside its doors.

The lights at Porky’s and its adjacent sister club Dreamgirls were turned off in 2018 but the famous neon signs that once marked the centre of Kings Cross’s sleazy nightlife remain.    

1 year ago

Those old advertising signs – unlit but clearly visible to passersby – are among the few physicals reminders of the wild red light decades of ‘s Darlinghurst Road.

Porky’s and Dreamgirls now resemble abandoned building sites, with electrical wiring hanging from the roof, rafters exposed below the awnings and upper floor windows left open. 

Memories of both places have been shared online since pictures of the fading Porky’s and Dreamgirls facades were posted to the Old Shops Australia Facebook page.

The strippers and the spruikers who enticed young men into Porky’s Night Spot are long gone but the famous neon signs that once marked the centre of Kings Cross’s seedy nightlife remain

The lights at Porky’s were turned off in 2018 – along with those of sister club Dreamgirls next door – leaving few physicals reminders of their Darlinghurst Road glory days

The page more commonly attracts pictures of old cafes, shopping centres and cinemas as well as forgotten ice creams and discontinued breakfast cereals.

The images of Porky’s and Dreamgirls were captioned: ‘A couple of old shops of a different kind at Kings Cross Sydney’ and led to reminiscences about the district’s former reputation.

There was plenty of talk of the ‘good old days’ and how Kings Cross had changed – most thought for the worse – since lock-out laws killed the whole party vibe.

‘I used to love going there,’ a user called Aaron wrote under the post.’Kings Cross was amazing in the 90s good memories, look at it today dead town.’  

Peter said: ‘This is where nightlife came to die.’ 

Julie: ‘How I remember great days of the Cross. Always something going on at all times.Sydney has lost its Bohemia. Now a run down overpriced suburban bore.’

Several users referred specifically to the neon signage, with calls for it to be protected with a heritage listing, placed in a museum or offered for sale. 

Memories of Porky’s and Dreamgirls have been shared in recent days as pictures of the building they once occupied were posted to the Old Shops Australia Facebook page.

Porky’s was perhaps the most distinctive joint on the strip with its five neon signs – three on the brickwork above the awning, one over the door and another above the footpath

Others bemoaned the run-down state of the building, which has been slated for redevelopment since it closed.

‘Thank you for posting,’ Allan wrote.’Here we are living in apparently one of the best cities in the world but in a major street in this city we have such decay.’ 

Many responses were along the lines of ‘if only the walls could talk’ and ‘some memories here’.

Then there were the the seemingly facetious comments: ‘They don’t look familiar, where were they located?’ and ‘Gee what are these shops?I have never ever been to anything like this, scouts honour!’ 

Buck’s nights were mentioned and the spruikers who touted for custom from the doorways also featured, as did underage drinking and drug use inside.

‘Porky’s was the first strip club I’ve ever been to as a young wide-eyed 17-year-old,’ one man wrote.’I got in at the age of 14 with a wedding after party,’ another responded.       

Some seemed to refer to the sex services that were available beyond the naked floor shows. ‘You could get anything you wanted behind those doors,’ Jo wrote.

‘You could get plenty of things you did not want as well,’ Wayne replied.

Porky’s and Dreamgirls now resemble abandoned building sites, with electrical wiring hanging from the signs, rafters exposed below the awnings and upper floor windows left open

The clubs’ violent past was mentioned at times, including the tale of one patron who indecently assaulted a stripper having his nose broken by her then being bashed in an alley by bouncers. 

Claims the area was much safer were met with counter-claims it had lost its soul. 

‘Yes there were bad things in the Cross,’ one man said.’But it wasn’t what the sideline commentators think. If you don’t truly know the old Cross, don’t make comments.’

Darlinghurst Road was once lined with such venues but today only Showgirls (at No 39) and Harem Gentlemen’s Club (70a) are still trading on the so-called Golden Mile. 

The Pink Pussycat (No 38) closed its doors in 2003 and was subsequently joined by Love Machine (60), Stripperama (44b, later called Strippers) and Bada Bing (now Harem and formerly Playbirds International.

In 1984, Frank ‘Ashtray’ Amante opened an illegal casino at 77 Darlinghurst Road which he called the Seventy Seven club but due to repeated police raids in 1987 it had to close.

The following year Amante converted the premises into a strip joint he called Spellbound but it was not as successful as he had hoped.

He renamed the place Porky’s after the popular 1981 high school comedy in 1990, copying the name and neon pig motif from the fictional Florida Everglades strip club in the film.

Originally, there were two pairs of neon pigs, male and female, on the brickwork above the awning which some observes thought appeared to be having sex when the lights flashed on and off.  

Amante told Daily Mail Australia that was not intentional but the signs certainly attracted attention and Porky’s was perhaps the most distinctive business on Darlinghurst Road. 

‘You could see it from everywhere, the neon,’ Amante said.’It just became famous.

‘People flocked there. One Saturday night we had 1,700 people through the door.’    

Nightclub owner John Ibrahim – onetime ‘King of the Cross’ – could often be seen standing outside Porky’s at the height of his street fame before the lock-outs. 

Porky’s was even recreated at Prospect in western Sydney when Ibrahim’s memoir Last King of the Cross was filmed for television last year. 

Nightclub owner John Ibrahim – onetime ‘King of the Cross’ – could often be seen standing outside Porky’s at the height of his street fame.The old site is pictured last week

A facsimile had earlier been erected at Lane Cove on the lower north shore for the 2010 drama series Underbelly: The Golden Mile.

Ibrahim was the central character in both programs and one scene in Underbelly showed him being stabbed then carried by a bouncer under the Porky’s neon sign. 

Sex no longer sells in Kings Cross, as brothels and strip clubs have been replaced by yoga studios, organic food purveyors and cashed-up residents in multimillion-dollar apartments. 

Amante, who split Porky’s in two when he opened Dreamgirls in 2007, said he had been paying $9,700 a week in rent for the two clubs, which operated across a basement and three floors. 

‘Everything’s closed,’ he said.’They locked us out. There’s nothing there now.’ 

Most of the club closures have been attributed to the lock-out laws which curtailed trading hours for venues in the CBD entertainment precinct but some followed crackdowns on drug dealing and breaches of liquor laws.  

The venues had also come under increased police surveillance and the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority suspended Dreamgirls’ alcohol licence in 2016. 

Porky’s was recreated at Lane Cove on the lower north shore for the 2010 drama series Underbelly: The Golden Mile (above)

The lock-out laws were introduced by Liberal premier Barry O’Farrell’s government in 2014 after two teenagers were killed in random attacks while on a night out in the Cross.

Under the legislation, which was not relaxed in Kings Cross until 2021, no patron of could enter a premises after 1.30am and clubs had to close at 3am.

With most patrons not arriving at a club such as Porky’s before 10pm, they meant they could only attract custom for three and a half hours.  

Before the laws came in up to 20,000 revellers would descend on Kings Cross on a Friday and Saturday night.Within five years, more than 40 bars, clubs and small businesses had closed. 

Along with the strip clubs went the more upmarket night spots Soho, Beach Haus, planet88 the BackRoom, Iguana Bar, Trademark, Le Panic and Hugo’s Lounge.

Amante had been predicting the end of the sex industry’s dominance of Darlinghurst Road at least a decade ago.

‘It’s no longer a red light district,’ he told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2012.’The red light has gone out on Kings Cross.’   

During Lucy Turnbull’s term as Sydney Lord Mayor (2003-2004) she had moved to discourage strip clubs and brothels by prohibiting any new such businesses opening with 75m of existing ones.

The so-called Golden Mile was once lined with strip clubs but today only Showgirls (above) and Harem Gentlemen’s Club are still trading

Brothels moved out to suburbs in Sydney’s inner west, Parramatta, Liverpool, Canterbury Bankstown and Willoughby local government areas, while solo ex workers began to market their services online.    

Porky’s was slated for demolition when its lease was not renewed in February 2018.A plan was then proposed to double its three-storey height to house office and retail space. 

Potts Point and Kings Cross Heritage Society president Andrew Woodhouse said that ‘adventurous’ proposal appeared to have stalled and the site had become an eyesore.

‘It looks derelict and Third World,’ he told Daily Mail Australia. 

Attempts to contact the building’s long-time owner were unsuccessful, with a receptionist saying no one was available. 

The neon pigs were broken and vanished, as did the sign promising live shows above the Porky’s door.What is left are three above the awning and one over the front door.

Whatever happens with the redevelopment, Woodhouse has successfully lobbied for the remaining signs to stay where they are. 

‘It’s part of the history and heritage of the area and has heritage significance as a social and architectural element from an earlier period,’ he said.

‘It is a colourful element.That’s the idea of heritage – to keep what’s important but without destroying the new proposal.’ 

Whatever happens with the redevelopment, the old neon signs are set to stay and the building will still be known as Porky’s

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