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Denis Wong, restaurateur and owner of Sydney cultural icons Chequers Nightclub and Mandarin Club has passed away.

Owned by Denis and Keith Wong, Chequers in Goulburn St was one of the top cabaret venues in Australia from 1953 until the early 1970s. Steeped in entertainment history, Chequers was world-famous and voted in the top 10 nightclubs in the world by Variety Magazine (the only Australian nightclub ever to make this list to date).

Chequers’ international cabaret acts included Dionne Warwick, Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minnelli, Peter Allen, Matt Monroe, Shirley Bassey, Ginger Rogers and Nelson Eddy. Denis was also one of the first restaurateurs to introduce yum cha and his famous ‘Bomb Alaska’ to Sydneysiders, earning him and the Chequers restaurant culinary respect.

Denis was active in the Chinese Community and promoted cultural events such as Chinese New Year, Lantern Festival, Dragon Boat Racing and Chinese Opera. He was also an entertainment promoter and brought such acts as The Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, Shirley Bassey and Frankie Avalon to Australia. Denis had a passion for the Horse Racing Industry and owned numerous racehorses, with his best horse being the famous Zambari.

The new Mandarin Club reopened at One Dixon St on 22 September 2008 and is now under the care of Denis’ son, Jackson Wong, the current CEO.

Denis was respected by the musicians he employed but his pragmatic approach spawned many anecdotes that became standards in jazz circles.

Tommy Spencer, who was drummer in the Chequers house band for a time, recalled Denis being offered The Beatles at the then high price of $4,000 per week. Denis asked how many were in the act and upon being told four, said he would hire two of them.

Another time he thoughtfully watched the band rehearsing for a while, called over the new bandleader and told him to fire the bass player. When asked why he said ‘He’s just going boom boom boom all the time, same as the bass drum. We don’t need him.’ So the club was without a bass for the next couple of months.

Kings Cross identity Edwin Duff sang regular spots at the club, typically doing five numbers in Sammy Davis Jnr style. He recalls being invited to sit with Louis Armstrong and his wife at their table after he had ‘kept their seats warm’ while the star went to the nearest Post Office to make a long-distance call to the US.

Mr Wong’s funeral was held at Waverley on Tuesday.

by Michael Gormly