Darlinghurst’s City Gym – affectionately known as the “gay gym” – first opened way back in 1978, the same year as the inaugural Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. Run by trainer and equal-rights champion Billy Moore, it became a haven for the queer community during the ’70s and ’80s when, in most Australian states, it was still illegal to be gay. (Consensual sex between gay men was only decriminalised in NSW in 1984.) Moore championed equality, compassion and support, an ethos that continues today.
The gym was also a social and cultural hub that attracted an array of celebrities – Jane Fonda, The Rock, Grace Jones, Hugh Jackman and Arnold Schwarzenegger have all visited.
When Moore passed away in 2014, the gym came under new management. According to owner Billy Kokkinis, who took over the gym in 2017, it had became a “cookie-cutter” type of establishment and lost a lot of loyal members. But Kokkinis – a longstanding City Gym personal trainer who first started working there in 1986 at the age of 15, on a work experience placement – was determined to turn it around. He and business partner Andy Mamasioulas bought the gym in 2019, in an endeavour to turn the venue around. At the end of last year, they completed a $1.5 million renovation designed to bring back the original community and turn it into a “one-stop shop” for fitness.
“They were about to close the doors, so I basically put my hand up and took it over,” he tells Broadsheet. “I put a lot of hard work and love into it. It’s a new, evolved and modernised version of the original. And a dream come true to carry on my old boss Billy Moore’s legacy.”
On the ground floor, the refreshed City Gym features a huge weight training zone with 40-year-old machines Kokkinis has personally refurbished (“they’re better than all the new stuff out there”, he says), plus a women’s-only “booty section”. On the second floor there’s a spacious new cardio theatre, a boxing ring and a dedicated space for HIIT-style training. Up on level three is a quiet, thoughtfully designed mind-and-body studio for yoga, pilates and meditation, that looks out over Crown Street.
A new cafe space by the entrance serves Allpress coffee and ready-made healthy meals, smoothies and protein pancakes. It’s all made fresh every day by head chef Harnady Susantio, who’s worked in the kitchens of both Tetsuya’s and Aria.
The renovations are impressive, but Kokkinis is clearly most passionate about bringing back the community. From local fundraising events to affordable memberships (prices start at around $25 a week), gay cycling clubs, running clubs and the gym’s famous annual Mardi Gras float, he’s obviously keen to uphold Moore’s inclusive values.
And though it’s “still known as the most serious weightlifting gym in Australia,” he wants City Gym to be as unpretentious as possible. “I don’t allow idiots in here,” he says. “Anyone who steps out of line gets shown the door.”