The area on the eastern side of Prahran Station has a long history as a performance venue. In 1920 the famous Leggett’s Ballroom was built and became a dancing institution for decades to come. On the same site, The Continental Cafe at 134 Greville Street became a lynch pin in the Melbourne live music scene from 1993-2001. The story of what became affectionately known as the ‘Conti’ began at a time when both Commonwealth and State governments injected funds into the music industry with the establishment of initiatives such as Ausmusic and the Victorian Rock Foundation.


Poster advertising the performance of Archie Roach & Ruby Hunter at the Continental in 1996.

Poster advertising performance by Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter at The Continental Café, Prahran, Victoria

The proprietors of the Continental were ‘the Marios’ – Mario Maccarone and Mario DePasquale and the venue manager was Bernard Galbally. The venue was home to local and international acts, both emerging and established. It provided an alternative to the pub rock scene, creating a club vibe that embraced and showcased a diverse range of musical styles. The Cafe could accommodate about 500 patrons, with dining facilities and an upstairs music venue.

The Conti hosted regular household names including Paul Kelly, Mark Seymour, Vika and Linda Bull, Deborah Conway, Tex Perkins, Dave Graney, Colin Hay, Vince Jones, Stephen Cummings, Tiddas, The Blackeyed Susans, Chris Wilson, Archie Roach, Ruby Hunter, Kev Carmody, Jimmy Little, My Friend the Chocolate Cake and many more.

The venue didn’t restrict itself solely to music gigs. Comedy acts also took to the stage with performers such as Austen Tayshus, Jimeoin and Bob Downe. The Conti held more than 100 exhibitions by local contemporary artists including Rennie Ellis with his 1997 photographic exhibition ‘Club Cred.’ Artists were never charged to exhibit their works. It was the venue of choice for the 1997 Ned Kelly Awards for crime writing with Shane Maloney taking out the gong with ‘The Brush-Off‘. Screenings of the Tropfest film competition were held in 1999 and 2000. Showing a political bent, the Conti also hosted a Labor Listens Forum in 1998 with John Brumby, Rob Hulls and John Thwaites and in 2000 Paul Keating gave a talk promoting his publication Engagement: Australia Faces the Asia Pacific. In the 60s Keating contemplated an alternative career path in rock and roll and managed a band called The Ramrods.

Poster advertising Vika & Linda Bull performing at The Continental in 1997.

Poster advertising performance by Vika and Linda at The Continental Café, Prahran, Victoria

Sadly, in 2001, the famous velvet curtain was drawn for the final time. The void left by the closure has never quite been filled by any other venue in Melbourne. It was clearly in and of its time. The site is currently home to Boutique Night Club. The Marios still operate Mario’s Cafe, the sister cafe to the Conti in Brunswick Street. They remain strong advocates for local artists and continue to provide a warm and friendly place for art exhibitions.

Fortunately the legacy of the Conti lives on. In 2010, the Marios generously donated the entire collection of Continental Cafe performance posters to the State Library of Victoria. As well as being passionate music lovers, they also displayed aptitude as archivists, retaining one copy of each poster produced throughout the venue’s history. The posters feature a distinctive house style designed by Mario Maccarone and graphic artist Graham Barker and provide an extraordinary snapshot of the eclectic mix of musicians at the Continental throughout its nearly ten year history. The collection runs to almost a thousand posters and forms a rich resource for historians of Australian music and poster design.

Poster advertising Jimeoin performing at The Continental in 2000.

Poster advertising performance by Jimeoin at The Continental Café, Prahran, Victoria

The posters have all been digitized and are available online. You can also search the catalogue for a particular musician or band; for example, continental cafe tim finn or continental cafe gadflys.

Written by Sarah Ryan
Librarian, Australian History and Literature


This article has 8 comments

  1. Great memories of the Conti. Even though we lived in Mornington, some weeks we would be there two or three nights. Hunters and Collectors and James Reynes gigs stand out in my mind.

    • Thanks for your comment Ray. The Conti was indeed a Melbourne institution for quality live music in the 1990s. Sounds like you were true devotees. Hunters & Collectors are one of my favourite Australian pub-rock bands.

  2. I worked the bar upstairs at the Conti for around three years, that gave me the opportunity to see so many fabulous acts.
    It was a fabulous place to work, the Marios hand picked their staff who all seemed to be connected to the arts in some way.
    I have a large collection of signed posters from my time there that are proudly framed and hung on my walls.
    I owe a lot to both the Marios and have remained in contact with them by showing my paintings at Marios cafe.
    Such wonderful years spent at the Conti that I will always cherish.

    • Barman at the Conti would certainly have been a coveted role Rob. That’s great that you have maintained a relationship with the Marios through exhibiting your art work at their cafe in Fitzroy. Thanks for sharing your connection to the Conti and the Marios.

  3. I was at the Conti more evenings each week than my house. Tim Finn, Renee Geyer, Chris Wilson, Paul Kelly, Vika and Linda, Chocolate Cake, Colin Hay, Stephen Cummings, Deb Conway, Alt, Harry Connick Jr showcase, KDLang showcase sitting on corner of stage singing ‘3 cigarettes in an ashtray’. The Conti was simply the best. The big question each week was ‘should we do show, or dinner and show’?

  4. The Conti showcased such an array of high quality local and international talent. I must confess I was only 19 in 2001, so unfortunately I never experienced the magic of the venue. I was exposed to the music of many of the artists through my older siblings. The closure of the Conti heralded the end of an era and sadly, we haven’t seen its like again. It’s interesting to note that the original iPod was released in October 2001. It sparked a revolution in the way we experience music and has undoubtedly had an impact on the evolution of the current live music scene. Thanks for taking the time to post a comment Paige.

  5. russell holmes

    absolutely excellent venue, superb PA system, acts. Jimmy Smith, little Charlie and the Night cats etc.
    so, the big question, why did it close and why has another venue with a similar internal configuration not been implemented. mystery indeed.

    • Hi Russell

      Thanks for reading the blog and taking the time to comment. It closed because the Marios couldn’t come to a lease agreement with the landlord and sadly no-one with the capital or the same ideals stepped into the breach.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Terms & Conditions