From the very beginning, when it officially opened its doors in 1978
The same year as the first Mardi Gras – City Gym has always been a people-focused fitness venue catering for the widest cross-sections of Sydney’s varied communities. From its origins as a hub for the burgeoning fitness and bodybuilding industry, to a safe haven for the LGBTQI community, from the princes of Kings Cross to helping street kids, City Gym has become a home to all.
Sydney’s iconic City Gym officially opened its doors in 1978 to a burgeoning fitness and bodybuilding industry. That year was an equally auspicious one for the Australian gay community, as it marked the first Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras parade. Mardi Gras ’78 was Sydney’s contribution to the international gay solidarity celebrations and a daring act of political activism for its time.
It was an event that started with a small group of protesters, bravely banding together in a climate of fear, ignorance and discrimination, in defiance of archaic and discriminatory laws into what has become a defining night in Sydney’s gay community, and landmark event on Australia’s cultural heritage calendar.
City Gym co-founder Billy Moore witnessed the LGBTQI community’s struggles first-hand. Frustrated at the blatant discrimination and homophobia, he was determined to create a safe haven that would become a meeting place for all people of all cultures, sexualities and gender identities. In doing so, City Gym earned a moniker as “the gay gym” for the better part of three decades. From then into the ’80s, City Gym established itself as one of Sydney’s most famous social and cultural hubs. It was considered normal to bench press with any of Sydney’s top personal trainers, or ask for a spot from a more than obliging lauded local bodybuilder. There was no hierarchy, no pecking order.
In 1986, Billy Kokkinis, a young school kid from Mount Druitt headed to City Gym for work experience. Not long after, the impressionable 15-year-old – “60 kilos wringing wet” – joined the gym crew as a young and enthusiastic employee.
City Gym became the Mecca of the sporting elite, Olympic champions, Hollywood superstars, music industry legends, world-class bodybuilders – Arnold Schwarzenneger, Tom Platz and Dorian Yates and names from City Gym’s hallowed Wall of Fame – Jane Fonda and Grace Jones, The Rock and Hugh Jackman. And yes, there is of course your average Joe, there to unwind and sweat out the day’s stresses after a hard 9-5 grind at the office. This rich tapestry of weird and wonderful personalities and offbeat characters he met continues to contribute to the reputation of City Gym as the fitness industry’s source of dubious (and often hilarious) urban myths and legends.
When the Mardis Gras theme took a serious turn in the 1980s and ’90s with the fight against AIDS, the City Gym lost one of its own, beloved manager Peter Vincent, who passed away on World Aids Day in 1991. City Gym survived the 90s and moved into the new millennium with more fervour and passion. New Director Thoath Sik took over the reins after Billy Moore’s retirement and vowed to maintain the same advocacy and equal rights’ support demonstrated by his predecessor. The early 2000s witnessed the arrival of a new and stylised fitness centre franchises. Unphased and stoic, City Gym resolved to maintain its “old school” feel, refusing to follow the cookie-cutter prototype, while the others came and went. The sad passing of Thoath, and a change in management teams and management styles, were major contributors to a downturn in the gym’s popularity and decline.
Over the years, Billy Moore had taught Billy Kokkinis the ins and outs of how to run a successful gym, including his ideology of equality, protection, support, compassion and respect for all. To this day Billy Jr has not wavered from this ethos and after more than 40 years of loyal service, Billy Jnr was not about to lose the City Gym when it was about to go under. Still mourning the death of founder Billy Moore, it was time for Billy Jnt to step up. Bound by loyalty and a responsibility to the City Gym family, Billy, along with co-director Andy Mamasioulas, are City Gym’s new owners and are now rebuilding the brand and refurbishing the facilities. That includes a new cafe offering quality food and coffee, and the best protein shakes, a first floor boxing and martial arts gym, a just-opened group fitness space, plus a quality outsourced health and beauty hub for face and body therapies and treatments. New changeroom facilities are also being installed.
Meanwhile, Billy and Andy continue to support the city’s long history of LGBTQI activism, and warmly welcome back the many members who are again an integral part of this great institution.
Plans are already in the works for major collaborations with local LGBTQI businesses and community groups, a 2020 City Gym Mardis Gras float, sponsorships of important charities and many other exciting ventures.
See you all here at City Gym: The rebirth of an icon