Adelaide’s historic 1870s synagogue has found a new life in recent years as the home of a slightly different kind of weekend worship.
Adelaide’s LGBTQI club scene has weathered changes in recent years, but East End nightclub Mary’s Poppin has emerged as a success story. Since opening in 2016 the Synagogue Place hotspot has outgrown its original capacity, and is currently in the midst of an expansion to claim two floors of the striking heritage building formerly shared with nightclub Haçienda and bar Dim Dooley.
A suite of modifications are currently underway, but as founder Stephen Craddock explains the primary spirit of the club is unchanged. “When I was conceptualising Mary’s Poppin four or five years ago I had a very definitive direction on what I wanted to present,” he says. “From the cocktails, to the shows, to the music style, it was all set in stone many years ago.
“I wanted to create a place where everyone was welcome, somewhere a bit eccentric and different, where doof-doof was banned in favour of retro 80s and 90s pop, disco and R&B. It’s campy and casual, but still with a bit of sparkle and glam – the kind of place that feels a bit like a second home… if your home had mirror balls in the toilet.”
The venue’s relaunch on Thursday, August 23 will see that original idea writ large. “I wanted to bring elements of what I’ve experienced from some of the best gay bars around the world to Adelaide,” Craddock says. “So we’re totally revamping it with some incredible new features – think mirrored ceilings and walls, a light-up go-go dancing cage and lots of neon.”
The tension and, ultimately, celebration surrounding last year’s marriage equality survey underlined the value of safe and proud spaces for Australia’s queer community and its allies. “The need for LGBTQI friendly spaces is now more important than ever, and we’re proud that Mary’s is providing that for Adelaide. We’ve had heaps of same-sex wedding parties there too, it’s become a real hotspot for that. We love it – it’s always a super fun night for them and us.”
Alongside the club, Craddock’s In The Dark production company has harnessed the growing mainstream success of reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race to bring a string of former contestants to eager Australian fans, including recent Season 10 winner Aquaria. Last month, the 22-year-old New York performer was lip syncing Lady Gaga to a sold out Mary’s Poppin mere weeks after taking the crown of America’s Next Drag Superstar. Former contestants Monique Heart and Jinkx Monsoon will headline the August 23 relaunch, while upcoming tours with past winners Sasha Velour and Trixie Mattel are set to grow beyond a club setting entirely with a series of Thebarton Theatre dates.
“Over the years I’ve seen drag firmly take its place within LGBTQI culture worldwide,” he says. “Back when we started we were selling a few hundred tickets to our shows – now we’re selling out huge concert spaces every month. It’s been incredible to watch it grow organically in Australia, and we’re proud to have played a part in that. Of course drag has always been a main feature of the entertainment at Mary’s Poppin too, and we now have five incredible resident local queens called the Mary’s Divas who produce nine shows a night. People absolutely love it, and watching them grow as performers over the years just warms my heart.”
There have, however, been a few casualties from the club’s success: the carpets and couches are all being replaced after two years. “They’ve all been danced on so many times, they have to go to disco heaven!”
Mary’s Poppin’s new ground floor expansion opens Thursday, August 23. The upstairs bar remains open every weekend during the renovations.