Adelaide’s Gonzo Group has been busy – after opening rock‘n’roll dive bar Cry Baby in 2019, co-founder Jon Di Pinto followed up with honky-tonk Shotgun Willie’s and subterranean blues bar Memphis Slim’s in 2021. Then the group opened Tex-Mex taco bar El Camino earlier this year, as well as French brasserie La Louisiane, a collaboration with Big Easy Group. Now Gonzo Group will add two more venues to the portfolio, including the revival of Rundle Street institution Sugar.
The storied nightclub operated for 20 years, before closing its doors at the end of last year following a turbulent pandemic period – including money issues founder Driller Jet Armstrong attributed to skyrocketing public liability insurance costs.
“For us, growing up with Sugar and going there and being in the industry, it’s left this gaping hole in Adelaide,” Di Pinto tells Broadsheet. “Adelaide doesn’t feel the same without Sugar.”
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Over its two decades of operation, the venue was a magnet for local and touring DJs, as well as punters looking for a place to dance to house and techno – or have a hit of pool – into the wee hours. For Di Pinto, it’s a natural fit for Gonzo Group’s repertoire and penchant for lively late-night bars.
“We focus massively on music, so having something like Sugar that’s had 800-plus international DJs and live acts over the last 20 years … it fits perfectly with what we do,” he says. “We create bars for people, for the punters, and Sugar slots in perfectly with that.”
When it reopens on December 1 (with a headline show by Brooklyn producer and DJ Joe Claussell) Gonzo Group will take over the operational side of the business – taking the space “to the next level” with a new Funktion One sound system, upgraded lighting and a refreshed bar – while Armstrong (who is near-synonymous with the Sugar brand) stays on as part-owner and talent booker.
“Driller is staying involved and something that was big for him is that he’s the man behind the bookings of these DJs – he’s been doing it for 20-plus years – so he’s gonna focus purely on that, which is great,” says Di Pinto.
Sugar's interior, with its pink-centric aesthetic designed by Armstrong’s partner Mariot Kerr (an AACTA award-winning costume designer), will also remain unchanged. The drinks list will get an overhaul, curated by Gonzo Group’s cocktail king Michael Keogh.
He’ll be leaning into the nostalgia for the venue and looking to appeal to all comers, so expect longneck beers and old-school RTDs like Cruisers and Ruskis, plus the addition of a four-tap beer system. “What we do is all very bar-related, so the drinks offering will be a bit more in line with the other bars we have,” says Di Pinto. “Still very club-oriented drinks, we’re not going to be worried too much with fancy cocktails, but the offering and the bar service will definitely improve.”
The acquisition of Sugar also marks the group’s debut in the city’s east end. “We’ve always spoken about doing something down the east end,” says Di Pinto. “West end is great, but when the Fringe is on we see the east end going off … it made sense to weasel our way in and capitalise on some of that trade at that time of the year.”
The group’s still growing in the west and is set to open a new venue next door to Cry Baby in the space currently occupied by 1000 Island (which called last tiki drinks on Instagram earlier this week, with hopes to reopen in a new and bigger location next year).
The still-to-be-named bar, which Di Pinto hopes to open in time for Christmas, will be accessible via Cry Baby, but its own separate entity. “We wanted to have an area next to Cry Baby that can be a bit tidier and less grungy – like a little haven to get away,” says Di Pinto. Where Cry Baby (named after the Janis Joplin song) is all about ’70s rock, its neighbouring sibling will be leaning into the glitz and glam of the ’80s. “Lots of mirrors and disco balls and metallics and sparkly things,” says Di Pinto.
Sugar will reopen on December 1. The Gonzo Group’s unnamed west end venue will open later that month.