Save the Butterfly Club: Melbourne’s cabaret institution calls for community help

The Butterfly ClubAfter operating for thirteen years from an old terrace house at 204 Bank Street South Melbourne, the iconic Butterfly Club is about to flit across to the central city. The first reaction of many: perish the thought! How could you possibly recreate such a beautiful and idiosyncratic venue in the heart of Melbourne?

Simone Pulga, who has been the Director of The Butterfly Club for the past two years, is quick to put such fears to rest. Rising rental and a heritage building that is very much in need of some serious maintenance made it clear that they would not be able to afford to run the club as they wanted.

Fate intervened, it seems.

“We found a brilliant building in the city which is very much The Butterfly Club; it has the same character but is in much better shape in terms of what goes on behind the walls”, Pulga told me this week.

Simone Pulga. Image by Ange Leggas
Simone Pulga. Image by Ange Leggas

“It’s not about building a new Butterfly Club, we are relocating The Butterfly Club. It’s not a new building, it’s 120 years old.”

It looks as if it was built in a time when people didn’t put much thought into how to lay out a building, and Pulga agrees.

“It’s brilliant… it has stairs that go straight into a concrete wall, I’m not kidding. We’re scratching our heads and looking at it and that’s all we can do.”

In the last 120 years it has housed, among others, a watchmaker, a tailor (prior to WW1) and the Tasmanian Tourist Bureau during the 1950s, and been vacant, with the exception of numerous birds who have left their calling cards. For the past fifteen years the building has been many things to many people and Pulga says “that heritage is very much reflected in the architecture.”

When I ask if Colin, the resident ghost at Bank Street, will also be re-locating, Pulga tells me that “the day before the announcement [that they were moving and asking for public support to cover the costs involved] my phone decided to take a dive to the nearest slab of concrete and fall into a million pieces with all my numbers in it. I think it meant that Colin intends to come with us.”

Aside from housing the largest collection of kitsch art in Australia and garnering a notable reputation for its cocktail list, The Butterfly Club does what no one else does: it offers artists a chance produce independent shows with minimum outlay and without great risk. The club shares the costs of production (and revenue from ticket sales) with the artists thereby allowing those who want to take their first theatrical steps to do so without taking a huge financial gamble. It also means that the club is able to put on some 600 performances in any one year.

The Butterfly Club is a castle of kitsch
The Butterfly Club is a castle of kitsch

The Butterfly Club has been witness to the early performances of many now well known artists including Tim Minchin, Eddie Perfect and Sammy J. They have also attracted high profile international acts such as Spanky (UK) and Amanda Palmer (USA), who like the intimacy of the venue, and been featured on the Jonathan Ross Show (BBC; currently showing on the ABC). The number of shows helps to create an environment that encourages the artists to mix and mingle and Pulga tells me that a lot of shows have been born over a glass of wine in the backyard of 204 Bank Street.

The city Butterfly Club will be situated on the corner of Collins and Swanston Streets, right near the “busiest tram stop in Victoria and the biggest in Australia!”

The entrance will be via an alley giving the venue “alley credit – even more Melbourne.”

There will a larger show room of 80 seats (as against the current 46) which will be an advantage for performers in terms of ticket sale, but will not reduce the level of intimacy that is so much part of the club. Artists will have the opportunity of distributing flyers and creating the sort of vibe that is common during festivals.

“Without being annoying I’m sure our performers can think of some very clever ways of getting people off the street interested in coming in to see a show … for performers who are having their first go this is essential training … you have to do it and you have to know how to do it.”

$130,000 is needed to cover the cost of removal. Pulga says that the public response to their pozible campaign, which was launched just over 56 hours ago, has been beyond his wildest dreams.

$8,500 has already been raised, but that still leaves $122,000 to go.

Pulga admits that whilst he is the one who is meant to do all the worrying, the enthusiasm that has been shown to date by artists, organisations and individuals ‘is very contagious’ and he certainly sounds excited and positive about the re-location.

Whilst the larger items will be transported by professional removalists, everyone will have the opportunity of helping transport the kitsch art. The club plans to call for volunteers to bring a box, fill it with kitsch, then jump on the 112 tram and travel to the city where they’ll deliver their box of treasures and have a chance to see the new venue before anyone else.

If you are able to help financially, then check out Pulga assures me that the rewards that are currently online are the ones they had ready last week. Since the launch of the campaign many artists have offered their help and so there will be more rewards added over the next few months. Keep checking and come to the shows!

The Butterfly Club is operating from 5pm nightly (except Mondays) at 204 Bank Street South Melbourne and an exclusive ‘Final Countdown’ Gala will be held on Friday 8 February with tickets exclusively available via

Jan Chandler

Jan has been working freelance in the arts industry for some 15+ years in a variety of roles including: arts management; journalism (print, radio and online); publicity; and media relations. Passionate about the arts in all their variety, Jan has worked in film (production assistant; reviewer); dance (publicity; producer and presenter of 'Dance Dialogues - 3CR) and Board Member of Ausdance (Victoria)); performing arts (company manager, performer, reviewer, online editor). Jan had the honour of being the General Manager of Ilbijerri Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Theatre for some 18 months.

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