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 26 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.

  6. Memory invoking blog, thanks Sarah!

    • Hi Lynda

      Thanks for reading the blog. The Conti certainly has a special place in the hearts of many Melburnians.



  7. Thanks for that Sarah. While I was often a visitor to The Continental and saw many fab performances, I was not aware of its back story. It is, indeed, sadly missed, but I think it’s demise may have sparked the rise of such venues as The Caravan and The Flying Saucer.

    • Hi Paul

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Reassuring that live music continues to thrive and evolve in the suburban areas you mention.



  8. I worked in the kitchen for 18 months as an apprentice chef, both downstairs and upstairs in the function room! Best job I’ve ever had! Got to listen to the sound check whilst we cooked! They looked after their staff and the staff were a hoot to work with! Fond memories that will stay with me forever!

    • Wow Jacinta! I can imagine you would have been right in the thick of it working in the kitchen. Glad to have rekindled happy memories.



  9. thanks so much – i am researching toward a history (bbok and ebook) on Greville Street so this is great

  10. Possibly Melbourne’s most unique cosy venue of music south side of the Yarra …having seen Cummings , Conway and Wilson’s music plus the entertaining comedy on a few occasions …Chris Bailey ex Saints performances was reminiscent of a New York or more so a Boston bar..thoroughly enjoyed by all…Thanks Mario..

  11. I saw Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde play there in April 1998. I brought along my bass guitar and she autographed it.

    • I remember Johnette playing there with Chis Bailey IIRC. She was a bit wasted and Bailey a bit antagonistic(especially to the seated diners) but they got thru a pretty memorable gig. Loved the Conti. Saw Mark Gillespie there a couple of times sitting right next to his monitor.

  12. Was it ever called ID’s

    • Hi Paul

      IDs was a nightclub around in the late 1980s located in the same building prior to the establishment of the Continental Cafe in 1993. It’s mentioned in the book called Crowded House:Something So Strong. The relevant passage is online via Google Books.

  13. Hello
    I have just found an old matchbook from IDs/ Barcelona bar & bistro and found this blog when checking if it was the same address, I attended both venues and really missed the Conti when it closed. Great that the posters are still around – they were always so distinctive.

    • Hi Janet

      Thanks for taking the time to comment on the blog. I hadn’t heard of IDs until the recent coverage in the media marking the 20 year anniversary of the closure of the Conti in 2001. Yes, the posters are great aren’t they. The richness of our collections is in large part due to the generous donations we receive. Thank you Marios!



  14. Saw some great shows at the Continental! These included Albert Lee and Little Charlie and the Nightcats – what a wonderful and, sadly, irreplaceable venue it was. Great memories indeed!

    • Hi Tracy

      Thanks for sharing your memories of the Conti. As Victoria emerges from ongoing lockdowns, I’m looking forward to seeing and supporting some live gigs at local venues.



  15. Some wonderful Vince Jones memories… Best Wishes.

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